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The bookstore was small and out of the way, and the job didn’t pay much; but still, it was the closest thing to a home Meijeong Chen had these days. Since she had moved to this part of town after graduating, she hadn’t had much time to socialize or make friends beyond her coworkers and the regular customers… or at least, that was the excuse she made for herself. It had been over eight months now, since she left home after finally managing to graduate. The late summer sun was sweltering hot as she walked to work, and she was grateful that she was able to wear shorts and a short-sleeve blouse at the bookshop. The area was quiet enough that the bookstore could afford to be friendly and casual. She didn’t have to deal with swarms of customers, but work was still steady. The owner Mr. Park was the uncle of an old friend she still had from school and a kind older gentleman who was looking to cut back on the hours he was working. Meijeong had spent time volunteering at the library before… well, she had the experience, and because her grades had dropped severely and she had taken extra time to graduate, there were no office jobs waiting for her after school was finished.

Before she had checked herself into the hospital, Meijeong’s life had been heading in a very different direction. It wasn’t her fault- at least, that’s what the doctors and therapists had told her. But the fact remained that she had gone from a student with perfect grades, who spent all her free time volunteering at the animal shelter and library, the oldest child who excelled at everything she tried, friendly and charismatic and destined to do great things… to now… Honestly, there was a small part of her that was relieved to be free of all that pressure. But things at home had been awkward for a while now, with her parents attention focused on her much more successful younger sisters, and she jumped at the chance to take a quiet job in a different town. It was a fresh start, and she was grateful for it, but… well, she would be lying if she said she didn’t feel a little unfulfilled.

Meijeong checked her phone for the time. She had purposefully left early for work, not wanting to rush in this heat, but now she would be there too early. There was a coffee shop that made her favorite blended tea across the street up ahead, so she decided to detour there. It was always busy in the summer, but there was plenty of time to get something cool and sweet before her shift.

Sure enough, there was a line, but it seemed to be moving quickly enough. Meijeong took out her phone and checked social media while she waited. Some of her old friends from school had gone to the beach over the weekend… her youngest sister’s summer internship had come to an end and she was moving back home… someone had gotten a new puppy…

Meijeong was so busy looking through the photos that she didn’t notice the group of teenage girls whispering about her at first. But eventually, she saw them sitting around a table just near the line and pretending not to stare, trying to slyly point at her forearm and the scars that ran helter-skelter from the inside of her elbow down to her wrist. Meijeong just sighed and ignored them. It never bothered her as much as she thought it would when people noticed. She told herself that but… the customer in front of her finished paying for their order. She was enough of a regular at this point that the barista knew her order (matcha, milk, and honey blended with ice). By the time her drink was ready, the group of girls had left and she was able to walk out without any more staring.

The cold drink made the walk in the heat so much more enjoyable, and Meijeong still made it to work a bit early. She smiled as she walked up to the shop- Mr. Park’s cat, a ginger tabby named Aslan, was sprawled lazily in the front window, enjoying the sun shining across the top of the short bookshelves. He barely moved when she opened the door, only a small flick of his eyes to see who was entering his domain.

“Don’t let me disturb your nap,” she said with a smile. At the register, the shop’s other employee, a part-timer named Sun-mi, was also sprawled out, fanning herself lazily.

“Meeeeiiiiii…” she said with a groan, “I’m so glad you’re here. It’s too hot for this.”

Meijeong laughed. “I let you take the morning shift because it was going to be cooler, but you’re still complaining.” Sun-mi sighed loudly, pouting. She several years younger than Meijeong, and it often showed. But even though Sun-mi had a flare for dramatics, she was an incredibly sweet girl with a big heart. Meijeong slid behind her and grabbed the plain green apron that served as their uniform from the drawers below the counter.

“I have a date tonight…!” Sun-mi said, “How am I supposed to go on a date when I’m all sweaty and gross from working in this hot shop all day? Even Aslan is miserable.”

The cat’s tail twitched, and Meijeong laughed. “Aslan is the God of this store,” she teased, “If he wanted it to be cooler, it would be. Besides, you leave in an hour. You’ll have plenty of time to clean up before you date.”

“Uuuughh,” Sun-mi sighed, “You’re so cold-hearted, Mei.” She stood up and took Meijeong’s hands, pulled her close, and pressed her face to her chest, “Mmm… feels so nice and cool.”

“Haha,” said Meijeong, used to Sun-mi’s antics by now. She extracted the girl from her and began flipping through the order slips and paperwork on the desk. “Did you stock the deliveries?”

“Yeah,” Sun-Mi replied, “But I didn’t get the books together for the special orders yet. The one woman who called seemed like one of your customers anyway.”

‘One of her customers’ usually meant someone who was asking for books on a subject, but didn’t quite know which ones they wanted. Sun-mi and Mr. Park had realized quickly that Meijeong not only enjoyed talking through decision-making with confused customers, but also excelled at it. Sometimes it was students, sometimes it was an older customer looking for something new, sometimes it was a mother in a book club. Meijeong enjoyed them all. There was something just so… she tried to find the right word… she supposed ‘fulfilling’ came the closest… about learning new things about a stranger, figuring out what they needed before they even knew it themselves. It wasn't saving the world or anything, but least she helped people in tiny ways.

“I’ll take a look at it,” she replied, and then added “It doesn’t look like we’re going to get too many people today. If the delivery is all put away, I think I can probably manage by myself if you want to leave early.”

Sun-mi immediately switched from lazy and melting to giddy and energetic. “Meeeiiiii!!” she exclaimed, “You’re the best!” She skipped in place and took off her apron. “I promise I’ll show up early some time for you. Mwah!” She bounced and kissed Meijeong cheek. The noise was enough to finally make Aslan lift his head, looking perturbed at having his nap interrupted. Sun-mi skipped over to him as well, and gave him a kiss on the top of his head.

“Now I’ll have plenty of time to get ready for my date!” she said happily, “Thank you thank you thank you Mei!”

“It’s fine,” Meijeong replied, laughing and shaking her head, “Go on, get out of here before I change my mind!" The young girl curtsied in mock-seriousness, making Meijeong laugh again, before heading out the door. Aslan, having decided that his nap was thoroughly ruined, jumped down from his perch and slinked behind the counter to the backroom, where his water and food bowls were.

Alone now, Meijeong sorted through the stack of orders and notes to find the special order Sun-mi had mentioned. She knew it as soon as she read it- a Miss Kim had requested an interesting mix – several children’s books and photography collection. She wasn’t quite sure if it was ‘one of hers’ after all. The children’s books would be easy, fairly common fairy tales and short stories that she knew they had several copies of. The photography book though…

Meijeong went to the art section, and found the book in question. The image on the front was a gorgeous landscape, full of cherry trees just before they bloomed. She didn’t know much about photography, but she could tell it was exquisite. Meijeong flipped through the rest of the book as she walked back to the front of the store and wondered about the person who was looking for this book.

The day passed faster than she thought it would. There weren’t many customers, and those that did come in were regulars who knew exactly what they wanted already, or students who needed to pick up a textbook order. In between customers, she flipped through the photographs. Occasionally, Aslan interrupted her to demand more food or treats or just simple worship, and she happily obliged him. She was scratching his favorite spot on his chin when a young woman, willowy and blonde, entered. Aslan bounded off the counter and gave the woman a careful sniff before rubbing against her legs and darting away again.

“Sorry,” Meijeong said, “He thinks everything that comes into the store is his. How may I help you today?”

It turned out to be the Miss Kim, who was soft-spoken and polite, and quite difficult to read. One thing Meijeong had noticed, however, was that the children’s books she had requested also had several different illustrated versions and after looking through the photography book, she thought that those might be something this woman would appreciate.

“Are these books for you, or are they gifts?” she asked politely.

“They’re for me,” said the woman, with a small smile, “I know it’s silly to be reading those stories at my age, but…“

“I don’t think it’s silly at all,” said Meijeong, smiling brightly, “Those stories stay around for a reason. They help us remember that sometimes looking the world in from the simple view of child makes complicated, adult problems easier to understand and deal with. They can bring us peace when we’re confused by reminding us of things that fill us with wonder.” Miss Kim seemed pleasantly surprised with her answer, and even more pleasantly surprised when Meijeong brought up one the illustrated versions of the books. It was nice, helping her find even more than what she was expecting.

Going to the back to grab the rest of the books, Meijeong thought for a moment about the woman’s smile. The photographs all had the feeling of waiting for something, but patiently waiting, for something you knew would happen eventually, and the woman’s smile felt similar somehow. The shop’s doorbell chimed brightly, disrupting her thoughts.

“Welcome, please let me know if there is anything I can help you find,” said Meijeong cheerfully, setting the books for the Miss Kim on the counter. They were actually quite heavy all together. Looking up, she saw that a familiar, heavy-set older woman with a flowing floral shawl draped around her shoulders had come in- Mrs. Lee, a frequent customer and a particular favorite of Meijeong’s.

“I’m back again,” Mrs. Lee said, “So glad you’re the one working today Meijeong. You were right, that book was wonderful. Romance, drama, heartbreak, oh! Exactly what I was looking for! But now I need more suggestions, and you’re the only one who hasn’t let me down yet.” Mrs. Lee was a wealthy widower who was in at least once a month to find suggestions for her book club, and Meijeong always liked finding something that would both surprise and entertain her.

“I’ll be with you in just a moment, m’am,” Meijeong said, setting the pile of books in her arms down on the counter carefully in front the blonde. Meijeong showed Miss Kim the books, and she smiled gratefully and nodded before digging out her wallet. Mrs. Lee wandered the store, talking loudly, picking up books and setting them down again in the wrong place. It drove Sun-mi crazy when Mrs. Lee did that, but Meijeong didn’t mind.

“Now, I know we’ve been on a bit of a period romance kick lately, but the ladies and I just saw this science fiction movie about reincarnation…”

“Here you go, miss,” said Meijeong handing the heavy bag of books to the other customer. The girl was tiny. Would she even be able to carry it on her own? Meijeong thought she better get the door for her, just in case. “I know which one you mean, m’am. I think I might have an idea for you.”

“Of course you do! You always do, my dear!”

The doorbell jingled as Meijeong held it open for the customer. Despite how hot the day had been, the evening air was starting to get almost chilly- was it that time of year already? She was distracted for a moment by the thought of fall, when suddenly the young woman gasped and dropped her bag. Meijeong was about to ask what was wrong, but then heard a child shouting. Across the street, a little boy was chasing his dog. The dog, off of its leash, ran away from the boy into the street.

Without stopping to think, Meijeong ran out, yelling and waving for cars to stop.

“HEY!” she shouted. Brakes squealed and the dog froze in place. Meijeong managed to tackle it and pull it back off the road safely. Her heart was pounding in her brain, and the dog squirmed happily in her grip, completely unbothered by how close he came to death.

“Where’s your leash, huh?” she said, panting almost as hard as the dog. Thank God this isn’t a busy street. She gripped the collar tightly, looking around for the boy.

“Po doesn’t like it when I put the leash on him,” said the little boy, running up to the disheveled pair, “He always bites at it and pulls, so I thought it would be more fun if we played without it.”

“He’s a dog!” Meijeong snapped, “Of course he doesn’t like the leash! If you care for him, sometimes you have to force him to learn to like things he doesn’t want because it’s for his own good. That’s your job as his owner!” The little boy was startled by her harsh tone, and it looked like he was going to start crying. The dog squirmed harder, moving closer to lick his hands. “I’m sorry,” she said, “I shouldn’t have yelled, but you both scared me very much.”

The boy nodded solemnly. He sniffed, wiping his face with one hand and petting the dog, Po, with the other. Meijeong dusted herself off, grimacing at the dirt and scrapes. “Come on,” she said, “Let’s go find something to help you walk Po safely. What’s your name?”

“Tae Hyun,” he mumbled, grabbing tight on Po’s collar.

“My name is Meijeong,” she said, cheerfully, “I work in this bookshop here, and I bet we have some old rope in the back that you can use to walk Po home.” Tae Hyun mumbled something that might have been “Thank you,” and Meijeong sighed. At the door of the bookshop, the young woman with all the heavy books had left, but Mrs. Lee was still waiting anxiously. She held the door open for the odd threesome, tittering and muttering a lot of ‘oh my’s’ and ‘my dear’ and some definite ‘for shames’ in the boy and dog’s direction.

“It’s alright Mrs. Lee,” Meijeong said, “We’re all fine. I’m just sorry you had to see all that.”

“It’s fine, dear, it’s fine. I’m just glad you’re safe.”

Meijeong gave the boy some old plastic rope that had been wrapped around some boxes in storage and sent him on his way. It took another 45 minutes to reassure Mrs. Lee- Yes, she was fine. Of course it was no problem to help her find a book after all that. No, she wasn’t traumatized. Yes, she did think that Cloud Atlas might be a nice way to mix up book club a bit. No, she didn’t need a ride home. Yes, she could walk fine even with the scraped knee.

“Thank you Mrs. Lee,” Meijeong said, “I hope to see you soon.” The rest of her day was thankfully uneventful. Mr. Park arrived later in the evening to check in on her and help close the shop before going to his apartment above the shop.

The hot day had turned into cool night, hinting that fall was just around the corner. Meijeong was grateful that she had thought to leave a sweater at work. It made the night air perfect. She checked her phone absentmindedly, deleting a few spam emails and…

She paused for a moment. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing up and she looked around. The street was empty, but... she felt like she was being watched. She started walking, a little bit most hurried than before. The area was safe, and the walk back from her apartment wasn’t long, but when it was dark, Meijeong was always more careful. Tonight was the first time that she felt this nervous though… like a pair of eyes was following her in the dark. Walking a little faster, she started singing quietly to herself under her breath, an old habit from when she was a kid and afraid of monsters in the dark.

Her singing voice wasn’t great, but it must have been enough, because no monsters appeared. Once she was back in the apartment, the anxious feeling was gone, replaced with frustration over the state in which her roommate had left the place. The fridge was empty, and the sink was full of unwashed dishes. Clothes were strewn all across their living room.

“I am not dealing with this tonight,” she muttered to herself. Thank God the lease was almost up. Her job was stable enough for her to afford a cheaper single apartment now… Sure, her roommate paid her share of the rent on time, but between the messes she left, the loud friends (and boyfriends, Meijeong discovered early on just how thin the walls were), and the fridge always being emptied… well, she was really, really glad that she’d finally be getting a place by herself soon.

  

Day One...

Fall was there, well and truly, but it had been a slow day at work. Usually, weekends after school had started up were busy, and so both Meijeong and Sun-mi were at the shop, but instead, both found themselves with very little to do. There was only a few customers in the shop, a group of high school age boys that Sun-mi had apparently found cute and insisted on helping them find their books. Meijeong stood at the register, absentmindedly flipping through a new edition of The Fellowship of the Ring that the shop had recently received. The Hobbit movies had publishers reprinting every thing related to Tolkien now.

Ding!

Meijeong set down the book and checked her phone. Normally, she didn’t keep it on her during her shifts, but she was waiting for an email from the landlord of the apartment she was hoping to move into at the end of the month. Instead, there was an OS update. Great… she thought, more useless apps that I can’t delete taking up space on my phone. It’s not like she could afford to buy a new one right now. She scrolled through, seeing what changes were made. Huh. Just one new app, some kind of messenger program. Or was it a game? She made a mental look to open it later, and see if she could delete it after all. Meijeong checked her email. Spam. Spam. Weird spam. Coupons. More spam. Nothing from the landlord yet, but it was still early in the day.

Sun-mi soon came back to the register, having not succeeded in making a sale, but in getting a phone number.

“Didn’t you just have that date with…? I don’t remember which one was most recent, guitar guy?” Meijeong said, rolling her eyes but still smiling as Sun-mi gushed over the boy who had just left the store.

“Mhmm,” Sun-mi said, giggling, “Don’t be jealous! Besides, I had to break up with him. He wasn’t that good at playing and his band was going nowhere fast.”

“I thought he was your true love,” teased Meijeong, turning back to her book, “They just don’t make romance like they used too.” She added, gesturing to her book in mock seriousness.

“He was my true love- last week,” said Sun-mi, sighing dramatically. She had pulled out her phone, with a pink case covered in stickers and charms and began frantically typing. “And don’t be ridiculous. No one reads The Lord of the Rings for the romance.”

Meijeong laughed. “Fair point.”

“If you dated at all, you’d understand,” Sun-mi said, “But you only read about romance. Seriously, my friend has an older brother. I’ll introduce you. I love you too much to let you be forever alone.”

“I’m fine, really,” said Meijeong, “I’ve tried dating, and just had enough bad luck to be done with the whole thing for a long time.”

“I knoowww… but still-“ Sun-mi said.

“Besides,” Meijeong interrupted, “What man could ever live up to Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, Elessar, the One True King of Gondor?”

“Uuugh, you’re such a nerd,” said Sun-mi, “At least fall for cute fictional characters.”

“I told you, I’m fine.”

Ding!

Meijeong’s phone went off again. Another update? That new messenger app might have been glitchy or maybe the last update didn’t go through correctly and something needed removed… She checked the phone. The app was still there… On a whim she opened it. Immediately, the app asked for a user name. Meijeong hated coming up with those.

“What’s that? A messenger?” said Sun-mi, peering over Meijeong’s shoulder for a closer look. “It’s not a new dating app, is it?” Meijeong laughed.

“I don’t know. The app came with the update. I don’t know what it is, but it wants a user name.”

“Weird,” said Sun-mi, “You should do something cute, like… PinkBunnyMeiXOXO”

“Haha, no,” said Meijeong, “It might be a professional related thing, I’m not risking that being my user name that I contact future employers with.”

She typed in her initials, MC, wondering if there was a character length requirement. Apparently not, because the name was accepted. The app opened to a messenger board, but it was completely blank. No names, no conversations, not even a profile to edit. Weird. Maybe the app was still buggy. It would explain the frequent updates.

Meijeong put the phone away and got back to reading. The shop seemed to pick up as the day went on. By the time her shift was over that afternoon and Mr. Park had come in to relieve her, she had completely forgotten about the weird app. That was until her phone went off again on her walk home.

Ding!

Opening the app, Meijeong was surprised to see that an actual message had come through this time, from a user named “Unknown”.

 

Unknown: … Hello…?

 

Unknown sounded flustered. Apparently, they had a found a lost phone, and had been trying to reach someone, anyone, via the only program on it- this weird messenger. Meijeong rolled her eyes. Someone probably was having as much trouble with the OS updates as she was. But Unknown, whoever they were, wanted help finding the phone’s owner, and she was a little confused as to why they thought she would be of any help?

Who asks a random stranger to find the owner of another random stranger’s phone via text messages? Unknown was really insistent thought. She debated just ignoring him but well the address was actually really close by, in a pretty safe and busy part of town. Meijeong actually had looked at the apartments there, but they were out of her price range for sure.

Unknown was definitely… overly friendly about everything, whoever they were. Maybe they really were just some overly zealous but well-meaning religious type who felt the need to solve every problem themselves, even if no one asked them to do anything. Meijeong had certainly met people like that before.

The apartment had the nicest security lock she had ever seen, and Meijeong definitely felt… uncomfortable, entering the code to open the door. Again, there was that over-zealousness that Unknown had, wanting her to practically break in without even ringing the doorbell. But... just leaving a quick note wasn’t going to hurt anything, right?

The inside of the apartment was impressively organized, and, immediately, she regretted going in. There were several large filing cabinets that looked like they had locks similar to the on the door. Clearly, whoever owned this place valued their privacy, and she had just gone and barged in on a stranger’s request. Speaking of… wait… what?

Unknown’s messages had all completely disappeared. In their place, there was a rapid-paced conversation between a group of people whose names she did not recognize. Oh, I have a bad feeling about this…Meijeong thought, reading through the messages quickly, glancing occasionally at the door to make sure some stranger wasn’t about to show up and… well, she didn’t know what might happen next.

The conversation actually seemed fairly normal to Meijeong, some discussion about jobs and internships and such. Until, suddenly, the group realized she was there, and started yelling about hackers. Apparently, the chat was supposed to be private, and Meijeong’s sudden appearance was causing a panic amongst the members. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say to all of them when she was just as confused as they were.

She pieced together who the people were as best she could through all the chaos… The apartment belonged to someone named Rika, who didn’t seem to be in the chat room… Yoosung, whoever that was, seemed younger than the rest… Username Zen was apparently a somewhat famous actor… Jaehee Kang was Jumin Han’s assistant, which seemed strange to her in a group where everyone else seemed so informal… 707 was a hacker, who was… apparently tracking her location. Shit. Meijeong was starting to wonder just terrible a mistake “helping” this Unknown person would turn out to be.

Taking a deep breath, she decided just staying quiet was not going to help matters, and introduced herself to the group. To her surprise, they began telling her about themselves as well. Or at least, she assumed it was about themselves. Anything could have been a lie at this point… She couldn’t quite tell how serious the situation actually was. The chat room bounced back and forth between deadly serious and jokes about cats.

Apparently, the app was only meant to be for the use of members of a charity fundraising organization, one that dealt with people who were rich and powerful enough to warrant special security measures to prevent information leaks. Its sudden appearance on her phone was apparently quite alarming.

After a long debate, some explanations, and an apparent hack of her personal information, Meijeong found herself invited to join the organization- Rika’s Fundraising Association. Maybe… Meijeong looked around the apartment. Helping people, talking to them, connecting them with them to find the things they needed… that’s the work she enjoyed most. And if… for some reason… fate had given her the opportunity to do that, not just for people looking to buy books, but for people who were going to make real, impactful changes to make the world a better place… she bit her lip, thinking hard. These days, she didn’t really believe in fate, but…

Meijeong sat down on the edge of couch, reading the RFA members messages. They all seemed so excited to have the opportunity to continue their charity work, and so sure that, somehow, she had been brought here to help them do it. Brushing her hair out of her face, she sighed. There had been that emptiness in her life since… for a while now. Meijeong had tried to ignore it, but maybe this was her chance to change that. To do something that mattered.

Maybe she was just overwhelmed by everything happening. Maybe she was just desperate for change. Either way, when they officially asked her to live in Rika’s apartment and work for the RFA, Meijeong immediately said yes.

Things seemed to move quickly after that. By the end of the day, she had moved her belongings over to the apartment and made some phone calls to her landlord and work notifying them. The members had been quick to message her privately and welcome her, and she felt strangely comfortable with it all. She had done a bit of “background check” of her own after leaving the group chat- apparently, Jumin Han and Jaehee Kang worked for C&R and there was a few news articles documenting their involvement with the RFA, so at least she knew it wasn’t all just made up. Zen had an impressive fan base and was apparently well known in the theater scene. Everyone else was a bit more of a mystery. As she unpacked her things, she wondered what kind of person Rika had been. It was Rika that Meijeong was most curious about, but…

The apartment left no clues about who Rika might have been, except that she was private. Or perhaps it was simply the nature of her work. Still, Meijeong had expected to find some kind of personal belonging, especially since it seemed from the discussions in the messenger that no one else had been here. The cabinets were bare, there was no art or photographs or any kind of decorations. Everything was brand new and except for the filing cabinets and security system, the apartment could have passed for a display model.

The whole thing was strange. But the RFA was easy to talk to, at least. Zen was a narcissist and flirt, but very sweet and caring nonetheless. Yoosung seemed very young to her, but he was clearly hurting badly over the death of Rika, and harboring a lot of resentment towards V because of it. Jumin… well, Jumin had a cat and not a whole lot of empathy for others, but she wasn’t sure if that was just because he was so formal. Jaehee clearly had a lot to deal with working for him, and even though she was cautious, she cared and was the most helpful in figuring out what exactly was expected of Meijeong in this position. 707 (Or was it Luciel? Or just Seven?) was the most intriguing to her? He made her laugh, and was lighthearted and fun, but didn’t seem to want to talk about anything serious unless absolutely necessary. Meijeong wanted to ask what he had found when doing his background check on her, but… she wasn’t sure she was ready to know how much he knew about her. 707 seemed content to not mention any of her personal details, so that made her feel a little more comfortable.

There were things about her life she didn’t want to share with a group of complete strangers.

Ding!

Meijeong’s phone alerted her to a new message and she laughed, wondering which member wanted to chat now. But when she opened her phone, her smile fell.

 

Unknown: It’ll be really fun from now on. Enjoy your time with everyone. I’ll come get you soon.

 

She shivered without meaning to. Something about that message sent a cold chill down her spine, gave her that feeling that she was being watched, even alone in an empty room. Should she say something to the RFA? Not yet, Meijeong thought, not until I know there’s actually something to be worried about. I’m probably just over thinking everything after today.

If what V said was true, then Unknown probably wasn’t dangerous. Maybe his talk about helping people and belief systems was genuine; an awkward way of explaining what Rika wanted her to do.

That night, Meijeong couldn’t sleep. Being in a strange place always made it harder to fall asleep, and after everything that happened that day, her mind was racing. The same seemed true the other members of the RFA. She spent most of the night chatting with them. So the next day, work came far too early.

“Ugh…” she groaned as she walked through the front door, holding a thermos of tea. Aslan trotted up and immediately began rubbing himself around her legs. “Yeah, yeah,” said Meijeong, reaching down to scratch the ginger tabby cat between the ears, “I know you were already fed.”

Meijeong snapped a quick photo of him, planning to share it with the RFA. But when she opened the messenger, there wasn’t a way for her to upload photos. 707 was there, so she asked him about it over her lunch break

 

MC entered the chatroom

MC: Hey Seven

MC: I was trying to upload pic of the cat at my job

MC: But my app doesn’t have that option >.<

MC: Did I mess it up somehow? Is it broken?

707: Ahhhh!! CATS

707: I’m sorry T_T

707: I, the great God Seven, designed and built this app and all its features

707: But I must obey V

707: And he asked me to disable your photo uploads to protect the location of Rika’s apartment, until we know everything is safe and I’ve finished hunting down the hacker

MC: Ah okay ;;

MC: I understand, but that’s a shame

MC: Aslan is a very cute kitty meow

707: <3 <3 <3

707: You’re a cute kitty meow!

Zen entered the chatroom

707: Also Aslan!? <3

707: God Kitty!

Zen: Ugh… cats again?

MC: God Seven, God Kitty, now I have to share the pic

Zen: Oh, MC is sharing pictures?

Zen: I’d rather see pictures of you than of -ats

MC: No, sorry Zen

MC: V says I can’t until the hacker thing is cleared up;;

Zen: T_T

Zen: Seven has probably seen all kinds of pictures of you

707: Yep yep

707: She’s super cute <3 <3 <3

MC: Thanks ^^

Zen: Jealous ~

Zen: I want to see MC too

MC: Oh

MC: Right

MC: I hope this is allowed

MC: but it’s kind of awkward to have you all call me MC

MC: Is it okay if I just tell you my first name?

Zen: YES

Zen: I mean

Zen: I want to know

Zen: a lot~

707: I already know it ~

Zen: Don’t brag -.-

Zen: but

Zen: You think it’s okay, Seven?

707: hmmm…

707: i think it’s okay

Zen: HOORAY

MC: Okay

MC: Meijeong ^^

707: Yep~ that’s CORRECT!

Zen: Meijeong… that’s a nice name

Zen: You’re definitely a cutie <3 <3

707: A cute kitty~

Zen: ugh

Zen: don’t go comparing beautiful women to furballs

MC: oh!

MC: sorry

MC: My lunch break is over. I have to get back to work

MC: I’ll talk to you guys later

MC left the chatroom

 

Meijeong laughed as she closed the messenger. These were nice people. Silly and eccentric, but kind. Maybe it was too soon for her to say that, especially about people she only knew via the internet that she was introduced to through a supposed hacker, but still…

“What are you smiling about?” said Sun-Mi as Meijeong walked back out into the store, “Looks like somebody found a boyfriend after all.” Sun-Mi giggled.

“Nooo…” said Meijeong, grinning and mussing up Sun-mi hair as she walked by, “Not a boyfriend. But I think I might start doing charity work again.”

Sun-mi laughed and called her a square, and the two of them got back to work. As she sorted books and worked the register, Meijeong made sure to snap more pictures of Aslan to save for Seven and the rest of the RFA to see someday. She even took a selfie with him, but deleted it right after. The dark circles from a long night and messy hair pulled back into a ponytail weren’t exactly flattering.

“Another time, Aslan,” she said, giving him a quick kiss on the nose. Tucking a lose strand of hair behind her ear, Meijeong picked up a stack of books and got back to work shelving them. She hummed as she working, a bit of a soundtrack from some movie or another that was stuck in her head.

When Mr. Park came in that night, Meijeong made sure to update him about her sudden address change.

“Make sure you can still get here safely,” he said, pushing back his glasses and squinting as he entered the apartment’s address into the ancient, bulky desktop computer where he did all his business. The computer was so old it wasn't even collected to the internet, Mr. Park just used it because he got it for free, “I know you like to walk but if it’s too far then I’ll help you figure out something safe. A woman on her own…” he trailed off as he finished typing.

“Thank you, Mr. Park,” Meijeong said, “You know I’m always careful.” He nodded slowly and tottered off to the front of the store to lock up, Aslan following at his heels. “Mr. Park!” Meijeong called after him, grabbing the keys, “You forgot!”

“Bring them with you,” he yelled back, “And then head home. I’ll lock up behind you and take care of tomorrow’s orders.” Meijeong did as he asked, grateful to be able to get out a bit early.

The fall air was cold and crisp. Even though it was dark, the grocery store was still open, and she wanted to grab some things for the apartment on the way home. Even if no one from the RFA could visit her yet, she wanted to be prepared. It probably wouldn’t take too long for everything to get sorted out.

Ding!

More messages. Jaehee wanted to make sure she understood everything so far. Meijeong smiled and called Jaehee to clarify a few things as she walked to the store. Even though much of it was new to her, with the help she was getting from the members Meijeong wasn’t worried. After all, this was just a fundraising organization. She could figure it out.

Chapter Text

Before the RFA, days off were always a bit hard on Meijeong. It’s why she didn’t mind picking up shifts for Sun-Mi or more responsibilities from Mr. Park. She would run errands and get chores like laundry done, but without any friends in the area, there was never anything fun to look forward to. Days off were the only days where she ever worried about that. So now, even though she wasn’t allowed to meet up with any of the RFA members yet, it was nice to have people to joke and laugh with when she wasn’t working. Even though it had only been a week since she moved into the strange apartment and was introduced them all, Meijeong was starting to feel like these people could be her friends someday.

She just wished V and Seven would hurry up and say she could meet everyone.

“I could always go to one of Zen’s shows and just not reveal who I am,” Meijeong said. Jaehee had called her during one of Jaehee’s rare moments of free time. The phone was squeezed between her tilted head and shoulder as Meijeong folded laundry.

“Zen’s shows are always worth going to see, even without false pretenses,” Jaehee said wistfully, “But unfortunately, he doesn’t have any coming up soon. It’s more likely that Luciel will finish his investigation before Zen has a performance.”

Meijeong sighed. “That’s true. Oh well.”

“Yes, it really is a shame that you’ll have to wait so long before seeing him live,” said Jaehee, “We’ll have to go together. Did you watch the DVD I had Luciel send you?”

“Zorro? Yeah,” Meijeong replied, smiling, “You were right, Zen really is enchanting on stage. And those sword fight scenes… Okay, I’ll just say it. He was sexy.” She laughed, but was surprised to hear silence on the other end of the line.

“Meijeong,” said Jaehee seriously, “I hope you don’t think I’m too forward for saying this, but make sure that you remember to control your emotions regarding Zen. I’ve seen the way you sometimes talk with him in the messenger, and it’s important to remember that a relationship could bring a scandal that would ruin the career of an actor like him.”

At first, Meijeong was too startled to react and she set down the shirt she was folding. After another moment, however, she burst out laughing.

“Jaehee,” said Meijeong, “You don’t have to worry about that. Zen’s a flirt and I like talking to him, but he’s only a friend. He’s not my type.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” said Jaehee, her tone lighter, “As a fan and a fellow member of the RFA, I want to support Zen and his career.”

“I understand,” Meijeong said, “It’s natural to be worried about those kinds of things. But I'm definitely not looking to get involved in a relationship right now, with anyone.” She stacked her clothes neatly on the floor in the corner of the bedroom Meijeong still didn’t quite feel comfortable putting them in the drawers. There was this tiny, subconscious fear that if she started making this place her own, she’d suddenly have to leave. Finished with that task, Meijeong went to the kitchen and wondered for a brief moment if Jaehee could have perhaps been projecting some of her own emotions. She decided not to bring it up. It wasn’t her business either way.

“Have you heard anything about potential dates for the party?” Meijeong asked as she started heating water for tea. “I haven’t seen V in the chatroom at all since the day I joined, and Seven said that was normal and not to worry but…”

“I haven’t, I’m afraid,” said Jaehee. “It’s only natural you’d be worried, since you’re still not familiar with everything, but V is reliable. I think as soon as Luciel clears up the hacker business, V will set a date.”

“That’s good,” Meijeong replied, “Thanks, Jaehee. For reassuring me and for lending me the DVD. I’ll send it back through Seven tomorrow.”

“It was my pleasure,” said Jaehee, “It may sound silly, but I really like having another woman in the group, especially one who can appreciate Zen with me.”

Meijeong laughed and opened her mouth to speak, but before she could comment, Jaehee suddenly sighed.

“I have to go,” Jaehee said, “Mr. Han is calling me. Goodbye.”

“Talk to you later!” said Meijeong,

After Jaehee hung up, Meijeong sent a message to Seven about returning the DVD. The address he gave her to mail it back to was actually quite a distance away and would definitely that would require driving or taking the subway. Even though she wanted to meet him just like she did everyone else, Meijeong didn’t feel comfortable trying to go there, not with how busy Seven seemed to be all the time.

The electric kettle bubbled and beeped and Meijeong poured the hot water into a mug with a tea bag. Carrying it to the living room, she got comfortable on the couch and opened the RFA app. No one was in the messenger at the moment and she sighed. The apartment felt empty and strange to her still. It still didn’t feel like “hers” but rather a stranger’s. Rika was still very much a stranger to her. Once she found out that Rika had committed suicide, Meijeong stopped asking questions out of respect for everyone’s feelings, but…

Yoosung had said that she reminded him of Rika a bit, but that didn’t mean much. Lots of things could remind a person of someone, especially when that person was essentially replacing someone in their job. But it bothered her, even though she didn’t want it to, that she was basically functioning as a replacement for someone who took their own life. It brought up too many feelings about her own history.

Maybe, once she could create her own space in both the apartment and the RFA, it wouldn’t bother her as much. She sipped her tea and absentmindedly thought about decorations for the apartment. House plants, definitely, and maybe some brighter colored pillows and blankets for the couch. Something to make it less sterile and foreign. Meijeong turned on some music for now and returned to the kitchen to do dishes, humming absentmindedly as she worked.

When she was finished, she opened the app again and was excited to see Seven and Yoosung were logged in.

 

MC entered the chatroom

MC: Hey guys ^^

Yoosung«: Meijeong! Hi!

707: hey hey hey

MC: hey hey

707: lol

Yoosung«: how are you?

MC: Good. Just enjoying my day off.

707: aaahhhhh

MC: ??

707: day off

707: do those really exist?

Yoosung«: Seven;;

Yoosung«: I feel like you have too much work

Yoosung«: You should take a break and rest

707: no

707: nooooo;;

707: if I did that

707: my boss at the agency will

707: will

707:

707: BOOM! KAPOW!

MC: What kind of agency do you work for anyway…?

707: That’s

707: a secret~

Yoosung«: Seven never tells us anything about his work, Meijeong

Yoosung«: he just makes jokes about how it’s classified

707: Not jokes

707: It’s TOP SECRET

MC: lol okay then

MC: I feel bad though. I’m sure a lot of the reason you have so much work is because of me

Yoosung«: that’s not your fault

Yoosung«: because of you, we get to have the party again

707: LOLOL freak Yoosung is correct

707: The reason I have so much work

707: is because of the hacker

Yoosung«: I’m shocked that you can’t find out who it is

Yoosung«: they must be really good to give you this much trouble

MC: Is there anything I can do to help?

MC: I wish I could at least introduce you to Aslan kitty meow ~

MC: Or make you food or something

Yoosung«: <3 <3 <3

Yoosung«: Wow Meijeong!

707: GAH

707: >///<

707: That’s

707:

707: My brain is beating so fast

707: lololololololol

Yoosung«: ??

MC: ??

707: Thanks

707: >_<

707: but I don’t think there’s anything you can do

707: not unless you have any clues about who the hacker might be

MC: no;;

MC: They were just overly familiar

Yoosung«: that’s not much to go on T_T

MC: They mentioned a religion? Nothing specific though;;

707: every little bit helps

707: a brilliant hacker like me never overlooks a single clue!

707: And with that!

707: Agent 707 must return to work!

707: to protect the RFA from all mysterious threats!

MC: Make sure you take care of yourself too

707: yup ^^

707 left the chatroom

Yoosung«: Seven is working so hard…

Yoosung«: I just hope V does the same

Yoosung«: I don’t want Seven’s hard work to be for nothing

MC: Hey Yoosung…

MC: can I ask you… about Rika?

MC: If it’s too hard to talk about I won’t

Yoosung«: No, it’s okay

Yoosung«: sometimes it bothers me how no one ever talks about it

Yoosung«: especially V

Yoosung«: Sometimes it feels like he doesn’t even think about her anymore

MC:

MC: Have you ever talked to V about that?

Yoosung«:

Yoosung«: No

Yoosung«: I don’t really want to talk about V right now

MC: Sorry

MC: Rika seems like she was so important to everyone

MC: But it feels strange being her apartment and knowing nothing about her

MC: There’s nothing personal here

MC: Just work stuff

Yoosung«: Rika was an amazing person

Yoosung«: She was so caring and bright

Yoosung«: But… she was reserved at times and kept things to herself

Yoosung«:

Yoosung«: I guess that’s why her death was so surprising

MC: But… what kinds of things did she like?

MC: Did she have favorite music or movies?

MC: Any pets? Did she collect things? Or have hobbies?

Yoosung«: Hmm…

Yoosung«: Well, Rika had a dog

Yoosung«: Her name was Sally

Yoosung«: Rika was really devastated when Sally passed away

MC: She was an animal lover?

Yoosung«: I guess. She really cared for all life.

Yoosung«:

Yoosung«: Rika really spent almost all her time doing RFA and volunteer and charity work

Yoosung«: It was something we did together

Yoosung«: I haven’t been as involved with volunteer work since she passed away

Yoosung«: and we haven’t been able to have any more parties

MC: I see

MC: I guess that’s something we have in common though, Yoosung

MC: I used to be really involved with volunteer stuff too

MC: At an animal shelter and library

Yoosung«: Really!?

Yoosung«: That’s great

Yoosung«: You really are a lot like Rika

MC: yeah… ^^;

MC: Maybe once the hacker stuff is sorted out

MC: and I get used to organizing the party

MC: You and I could start doing volunteer work together

Yoosung«: !!

MC: I want to start working at the animal shelter again, and it would be easier if I had someone to do it with

Yoosung«: That would be amazing Meijeong!!

Yoosung«: Wow

Yoosung«: I think it must really have been Rika that sent you somehow

MC: Maybe…

MC: Thanks Yoosung

MC: for telling me all this

Yoosung«: Of course!

Yoosung«: Oh!

Yoosung«: There’s a special boss monster in LOLOL

MC: haha go have fun~

Yoosung«: Later ^^

Yoosung « left the chatroom

MC left the chatroom

 

Meijeong frowned and set down her phone. She always felt like there were more questions than answers when it came to Rika. It seemed strange that Rika didn’t seem to have any hobbies or interests outside the RFA and charity work, but when she thought about it… If Rika was depressed, it would make sense that she wasn’t showing a lot of interest in other things. Sighing, she ran her hands through her hair and leaned back against the couch.

A dog… strangely, another thing she and Rika had in common. Meijeong liked cats, but she was always more of a dog person, and always wanted one. It was why she started working at the animal shelter in the first place- her family couldn’t have a dog because of her mother’s allergies. It was so strange, and if anything, finding more things that they had in common made Meijeong more uneasy. Dogs aside, would the RFA come to expect her to be exactly like Rika? And who the hell put it together that she and Rika were so alike in the first place? It wasn’t like Meijeong applied for the job… Somehow, someone sought her out for this, possibly on the order of a woman who then killed herself. Meijeong felt a sort of chill run down her spine.

“I need to get out of here for a bit,” she announced suddenly to no one in particular. The apartment, which had felt so spacious when she first moved in, suddenly felt like a cramped prison cell. Grabbing her jacket, she bolted out the door.

Outside, the warm sun took just enough of the chill out of the crisp fall air. Meijeong took a deep breath as she strolled down the sidewalks away from the apartment building. She focused on the world around her as she walked. The first of the dried fallen leaves skittered across the street in the slight breeze. In the city, she couldn’t smell fall in the air as clearly as she could back home, but it was still there, mingling in the background behind the auto exhaust and fast food restaurants. Autumn had always been Meijeong’s favorite season and she took it in fully now as she tried to relax her thoughts.

Maybe in her rush to be a part of something new and exciting, she hadn’t thought things through as thoroughly as she should have. How much did she really know about the RFA, besides what a few news articles she found had said? How much did she really know about its members? Everyone had been so nice to her so far, but…

The wind gusted slightly, blowing a few strands of hair across her face. Meijeong brushed them back, and played with her hair absentmindedly as she continued her walk. She didn’t have any particular destination in mind and the weather was beautiful, so Meijeong found herself going further and further away from the apartment.

“What if I just keep going?” she mused out loud, “Go back home and never look back.” It was a ridiculous idea of course. Even if she truly wanted to go back home, it’s not as if she could just run away from the RFA when they were never tied to any one location in the first place. Meijeong sighed.

Across the street, there was a small coffee shop that Meijeong hadn’t been to before, and she decided to stop inside. After getting her drink, she took a seat by the window and watched people as they walked past. Meijeong took out her phone, but instead of eagerly checking the RFA messenger like she had been all week, she plugged in earphones and began listening to music. The chai latte was perfect, not too sweet, and as she sipped it, Meijeong thought about something she hadn’t for a long time: What would the person she was before everything happened have done in this situation? She didn’t like thinking that way, usually. Meijeong was at peace now with the fact that she couldn’t go back to that person, but for once, it might actually be the right question to ask.

If she hadn’t been depressed, if she hadn’t come so close to killing herself too, would she be this worried about whether being a part of the RFA was the right call? Meijeong wasn’t sure, and so she sat drinking tea and listening to music as people walked by outside. Occasionally, she would see someone she recognized- a customer from the bookshop or someone who worked at the grocery store; familiar faces that she couldn’t quite put a name to. Then suddenly, a very familiar face walked past. Realization hit, and Meijeong jumped up. 

“Holy shit,” she cursed loudly, getting some dirty looks from the other patrons. Meijeong ripped the headphones out of her ears before running out the door to flag them down, “Subin!” The young woman spun around, startled to hear her name. When she saw Meijeong, her face lit up.

“Meijeong!!” she exclaimed, running to meet her, “I was just going to your place, I wanted to surprise you!” The two embraced tightly. Meijeong had never been so glad to see her oldest friend. “I was in town and my uncle gave me your new address.”

“Sorry to have foiled your evil scheme,” laughed Meijeong as they pulled apart, “You have to do better than that to surprise me. 

“Hey, I still surprised you. It still counts,” Subin teased. Her hair was a lot shorter than the last time Meijeong had seen her, and a different shade of purple, more blue than red, but otherwise, nothing had changed. Meijeong smiled and hugged her again.

“You have no idea how happy I am to see you right now,” she said into Subin’s shoulder.

“Yeah?” said Subin, “Well, I am pretty amazing like that.” Mejieong snorted and stood back to look at her friend.

“Is this place any good?” Subin asked, gesturing to the coffee shop. “We should sit down.” Meijeong nodded and grinned. The two went back in and ordered their drinks, catching up while they waited.

“How’s America?” Meijeong said, “I didn’t even know you were going to be back in the country.”

“It’s awful. I love it,” Subin replied as the barista handed her coffee, “I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t know if I’d have any time to see you. It’s just a quick trip to sort out some government residency paperwork and tax nonsense. I’m actually flying back tonight.”

“Really?” said Meijeong, frowned, disappointed, before taking her own drink and walking back to the window seating, “That sucks.” She took a sip the latte and settled into the armchair.

“Yeah, its a long flight for not a lot of time here,” Subin said, “How have you been?”

Meijeong sighed. “Good, I guess,” she said, “ I really like my job right now, but… I don’t know.” She bit her lip, trying to find a way to explain. “Sometimes I worry that it’s not enough.”

Subin nodded, shifting to sit cross-legged in the chair.

“And I started looking into this opportunity to do something a little more… I don’t know, fulfilling I guess,” Meijeong continued, “But I’m not sure if it’s something I can handle. It’s got me thinking about everything that happened back when I was sick, and just…”

“You’re not feeling that way again, are you?” Subin leaned forward, concern written all over her face, “Because if you need me to find a way to stay for another day…” Meijeong shook her head and smiled gratefully.

“No, it’s not that,” she said, “But thanks. I’ve just been wondering if I hadn’t been depressed, would this have been something I would have done without even thinking about it? Does that even matter?” She sighed and took another long sip of her latte. Subin pressed her lips together thoughtfully. The sunlight glinted off her purple hair and the two women sat quietly for a moment.

“I don’t know,” said Subin finally. “That’s complicated.”

“Right?” Meijeong said, chuckling, and Subin smiled.

“What is this thing you want to do? Are you allowed to say?” she asked.

“Not really, at least not yet,” Meijeong said, “There’s... non-disclosure stuff in place for now.” It wasn’t really a lie. Even though the RFA hadn’t explicitly told her not to tell anyone about her job there, Meijeong got the impression that for now, they’d prefer it was kept private. Subin sighed and pushed her hair back, though the undercut flopped down again almost immediately.

“This thing... Do you want to do it because you think you should do it? Because you think you should want to do it?” asked Subin, “Or just because you just genuinely want to try it?”

“Oh,” said Meijeong thoughtfully, letting Subin's words sink in. She looked out the window, watching leaves roll down the sidewalk. “I guess… because I want to do it. Not to reclaim the person I used to be, but because… I think I could be really good at it. Something the person I am now might be good at.”

Subin nodded. “So try it. And if it doesn’t work out, don’t get mad at yourself, ” she said, “Just try something else instead. I don’t know if that helps, but…”

“It does help,” replied Meijeong, “Thank you. I really needed to just talk to someone about it.”

“It’s kind of my job as your best friend,” Subin said, laughing. “Just like your job is helping make me some good Korean food now. You have no idea how much I’ve missed cooking with you.”

“Oh…” said Meijeong awkwardly, “The uh, kitchen in my apartment has some problems right now. The landlord has to fix the stove and stuff. Can we invade your uncle’s place?”

“If we’re making him food, then definitely,” Subin laughed. 

“Great, now you’re dragging me in to work on my day off,” Meijeong said, rolling her eyes and smiling, “Some friend you are.”

“You love me,” said Subin.

“Yeah, yeah,” Meijeong said with a smile, “Unfortunately.”

The two stood up and left the coffee shop. As they walked, they joked and laughed and caught up on new stories. Being around Subin always felt so natural to Meijeong, as easy as breathing, no matter how long it had been since they had seen each other. Childhood friends, the ones who stayed around for someone’s whole life, were wonderful that way. By the time they made it to the bookshop and Mr. Park’s apartment above it, Meijeong was feeling much better about everything. Cooking, drinking, and jokingly dodging Subin’s attempts to take pictures of literally everything was a familiar, soothing way to spend an evening; one she hadn’t experienced in a long time.

Eventually, Subin had to leave for the airport and Meijeong returned to the apartment. Even though it was still stark and foreign, the apartment didn’t feel as confining now. After making tea, Meijeong flopped onto the couch and opened the messenger. Jumin and Zen had had another argument about cats while she was away. She laughed as she read through the messages; and then, to her surprise, Jumin called.

“Hello?” she said, curious. Jumin didn’t really seem like the type to make social calls.

“Hello. This is Jumin Han,” he said stiffly, “I had some free time. I wanted to see how you were doing, and if you were having any trouble adjusting to everything.”

“Oh,” she replied. “Thank you. I’m fine. I was definitely a little nervous at first, but I’m starting to feel comfortable thanks to you and everyone else in the RFA. ”

“That’s good. If you have any questions about what you’ll need to do, feel free to ask Assistant Kang,” said Jumin. 

“Okay, thank you,” Meijeong said. There was an awkward pause.

“Have you been eating properly?” Jumin finally said, “I know stressful situations can cause a person to not eat well, but you’ll need to keep up your strength if you want to do a good job." 

Meijeong laughed, sitting up on the couch and brushing her hair behind her ear.

“Have I said something funny?” Jumin asked.

“No, no. I’m sorry. I’m not laughing at you,” said Meijeong, smiling, “It’s just really nice of you to check up on me, that’s all. I’ve been eating well. How’s Elizabeth the 3rd?”

“She is very well, thank you,” he replied, though he sounded a bit confused by her response, “I recently discovered a new cat treat company that uses strictly organic ingredients and Elizabeth the 3rd enjoys them. I may invest in the company.”

“Yeah?” she said, “That sounds nice. I hope I get to meet Elizabeth the 3rd someday. I’ve always liked animals, and the pictures you post of her are so cute.” 

“She is a majestic creature,” Jumin said, “And I believe you’re someone who can truly appreciate her beauty. I’ll introduce you when there is an opportunity.”

“Thank you,” replied Meijeong, knowing a compliment when she heard one, “I used to work at an animal shelter. I’ve met a lot of great cats, but Elizabeth the 3rd is one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes,” Jumin replied, “I’m sure that’s true. Once we know more about when the party will be, you should contact that shelter. They’ll likely benefit from attending.”

“Okay, I will,” she said, stretching and standing up. The sky outside was dark now, and she walked over to the window to look down at the city below. Rika’s apartment was pretty high up.

“I have to leave now,” said Jumin, “I have a call with someone overseas.”

“Go ahead,” she said, “And thank you for calling Jumin. I appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome,” he replied, and after a brief pause, “It was a pleasure talking with you. Make sure you get your rest. Good night.”

“Night,” Meijeong said cheerfully and hung up the phone. She leaned on the wall next to the window. It was still bothering her a little, how similar she and Rika were, but Meijeong was feeling much better about being a part of the RFA now. Talking with Subin reminded her that she was her own person, with her own experiences, and… maybe that would be enough… Meijeong sighed.

 

The next day, work was busy but uneventful. Mr. Park thanked her for visiting and making food the night before. A book order arrived that day, and so between stocking and organizing the order and helping customers, Meijeong didn’t have much time to check the messenger. When she finally checked in during her lunch break, Seven was there.

 

707: So dayum tired.

707: ;;;

 

After some joking around, Seven told her that he had finished running a background check on her, and that she had officially been declared “safe”. She still couldn’t post pictures, in case the hacker somehow broke into the app again and used them to find the apartments location, but she could contact the members of the RFA as long as she didn’t reveal anything about the location.

 

MC: So let me see a photo of you then haha

MC: Since you’ve seen everything about me

707: Me!?

707: You… you want to see me!?

707: Not satisfied with my profile pic!?

MC: lol

MC: of course not

MC: I want to know more about the great Agent 707!

707: hmm…

707: knowing more is dangerous

707: but if you want it that much

707: >.<

 

He posted a photo, a strange edit that looked straight out of a video game, which made Meijeong laugh. The conversation turned to cats. Apparently, Seven had a maid who refused to allow him to own a pet personally. He dodged her suggestions to come visit her at work and meet Aslan if he needed a cat fix, saying he was too busy. Eventually, Seven had to go back to work and so did she. Meijeong sighed, scratching Aslan between the ears and heading back to the register to help another customer. 

The rest of her shift went by quickly. Other than helping a student who was panicking over finding resources for a research project, Meijeong mostly just ran the register. It was monotonous, but it gave her time to think. Rika was a mystery to her, and she was a mystery to the RFA… except for Seven. After all, he had apparently done a thorough background check on her. Maybe…

Meijeong tried to call Seven on her way home from work, but only got voicemail. There wasn’t anyway to leave a message, so she put away her phone for the time being and enjoyed the fresh air. Sweater weather was her favorite, especially when she could still just wear shorts with one instead having to bundle up completely. It wasn’t until she passed a florist that she realized what Seven telling her she was safe meant. 

“I can stay in the apartment,” she said to herself. Immediately, Meijeong went into the shop and picked out three small houseplants, carefully putting them into a bag to avoid crushing their leaves. Down the street, there was discount store, and she went in to purchase some new pillows and a blanket for the couch. A small, ornate metal picture frame in the clearance section caught her eyes she walked past. Arms full, Meijeong picked it up carefully with her last free fingers.

Back at the apartment, she set up the plants in one of the windows and tossed the pillows and blanket on the couch. As she put away her clothes in the bedroom, she texted Subin and asked her to send her one of the photos she had taken the night before so she could print it out. Subin was probably still flying, but Meijeong knew she’d email back once she landed. In the meantime, Meijeong ran to the grocery store and bought some essentials, cooking supplies and spices for the pantry.

It wasn’t until she was making dinner that Seven finally called her back.

“Hello hello!” His cheerful voice rang out. “Seven. Zero. Seven. At your service!" 

“Hey Seven,” she laughed, “Mind if I put you on speaker? I’m chopping veggies.”

“No problem,” he said, “Turn it up! What are you cooking?” Meijeong set the phone down and picked up the knife again.

“Just stir fry,” she said, “Nothing fancy.”

“Yum!” Seven exclaimed, “I wish I had something that good to eat.”

“So visit and I’ll make you some,” she teased, dumping the chopped veggies into the pan and tossing them through the oil.

“Aaahhh…” said Seven, “…I wish. Too much work. I’m drowning in it all. Mary Vanderwood the 3rd caught me napping today and scolded me. I had to wait until she was gone to call you back.”

“Haha, she sounds ferocious,” Meijeong laughed, “I won’t bother you for too long then.”

“Bother? Never!” he laughed, “What’s up?”

“Well…” Meijong put a lid on the veggies and turned the heat down. Wiping her hands, she picked up the phone and took it off speaker. “I just… wanted to ask you something. I think you’re the only one who can answer.”

“Oh? So intriguing!” Seven said, “Okay.”

“So you’ve seen all kinds of stuff about me, when you did the background check…”

“Yep!” he replied cheerfully.

“Do… do you think I’m a lot like Rika?” Meijeong hesitated, “You’re kind of the only one who would be able to tell for-“

“Nope,” Seven said quickly, “Not at all.”

Meijeong paused. His immediate answer shocked her. Leaning the phone on her shoulder, she lifted the lid on her pan and stirred the contents.

“Really?” She began cautiously, “Because… I don’t know… Yoosung said some things, and everything I’ve learned about her and I…” Her voice trailed off.

“Nah,” Seven replied, “You’re two very different people. Rika was much more serious. She was always helping others, but she had a harsher side that you don’t.”

“Really?”

“Of course, unless I hack into your brain, I won’t know for sure,” he continued, “If they find a way to hack into the human brain, I would want to hack into you first.”

Meijeong laughed as she worked on the food. “No way,” she said, “Stay out of my head. I need to keep some of my secrets.”

“Heheheh,” Seven laughed again, “There’s nothing more tempting to a hacker than secrets people want to hide.”

“Get back to work then,” she teased, tasting a piece of carrot, “Go find someone else’s hidden secrets.”

“Nooooooo…” he groaned dramatically and then sighed, “You’re right though. If I don’t get back to work, I’ll be in trouble.”

The rice cooker on the counter beeped, signaling it was finished. Meijeong scooped some out and dumped the veggies on top of it.

“My dinner is ready anyway,” Meijeong said, “So I should get going to.”

She paused.

“Thanks, Seven… seriously.”

“No problem-o” he said cheerfully, “Agent 707, over and out!”

“Haha, bye!”

Meijeong hung up the phone and shoved it into her back pocket so she could carry her food to the living room. On the couch, she ate and thought about what Seven had said. Meijeong trusted his judgment on this. If he said she was nothing like Rika, then maybe, she really wasn’t. Maybe she had been worried for nothing.

Ding!

She had a new email on her phone, from Subin; attached was an absolutely ridiculous selfie of the two of them making faces in the kitchen. Meijeong laughed and emailed a response.

“It’s perfect… thanks” she muttered the words as she typed them. Before setting the phone down again, she turned on some music, playing it loudly. Looking around the apartment, with the colors and the plants and the soon to be filled picture frame made her feel better. It wasn’t just Rika’s apartment anymore. It was hers too. For the first time since she moved just over a week ago, it felt like a place that could be her home.

Chapter Text

V hadn’t been in the chatroom since Meijeong first joined the RFA just over three weeks ago. This was apparently normal for V since Rika’s death, but… The mood in the chatroom was starting to become a bit tense. While only Yoosung openly said anything against V, the others were clearly worried about whether or not another party was actually going to happen. Zen and Jumin were bickering more and more. Seven became ridiculous whenever the party was mentioned, and Jaehee had zero patience for any of the members’ behavior.

Meijeong tried not to worry about it too much. She focused on work and stayed positive, mediating the spats between Jumin and Zen and cheering up Yoosung whenever he started getting down about V and the party. Still, since she knew the least about what was going on, it was hard not to be nervous.

She sighed. Mr. Park had a family emergency the week before, and so Meijeong hadn’t had a chance to meet up with any of the RFA members either. Today was her first time not working overtime in a week, so she had to spend the morning doing all the chores she had put off.

“Thank god though,” she muttered to herself, throwing her clean wet laundry into the dryer, “Another couple of days and I’d have run out of underwear.” The machine thumped and hummed obnoxiously. Clearly, it was not one of the things Rika felt she needed to spend money on for the apartment.

Now that the laundry was almost finished, and the groceries had all been put away, Meijeong finally had a minute to sit down and eat lunch. Munching on a sandwich, she opened the app.

 

MC entered the chatroom.

 707: Gahhh so hungry T_T

MC: Seven ^^ Good to see you!

707: Heya >_<

707: did u have lunch, Meijeong?

MC: I’m eating now

707: Good job! Lol

707: So important not to skip meals, whatever you eat. lol

MC: you should take your own advice then lol

MC: if you’re so hungry

707: ^^;;

707: I eat

707: food

707: good food

707: Honey Buddha Chips

707: so good for the soul

MC: … you’re ridiculous. I need to make you real food at some point

MC: you and Zen and Yoosung

MC: none of you eat properly;;

707: haha

707: Guess Jumin should be luxuriously

707: slicing his prime steak

707: with his dad about now?

MC: oh yeah;;

MC: I remember Jaehee saying something about that

MC: he didn’t seem happy about it

707: I’m sure there’s a pretty lady facing him, lol

707: No sound but

707: forks and knives clunking…

MC: yeah…

MC: I feel bad that Jumin is so uncomfortable with his dad’s dating habits

MC: I hope he’s okay but…

707: probably not, lol

MC: I’d rather be working if I were him;;

MC: or eating cheap food somewhere with friends

707: Ugh, just thinking about it…

707: gives me goosebumps, lolololol

707: I’d run away so fast if I were him

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom

707: clunking?

Jumin Han: So bored.

MC: Hey Jumin.

MC: Did the lunch go well?

Jumin Han: I’m just sitting here. The meal isn’t over yet.

 

Jumin posted a blurry photo and Meijeong laughed out loud. It was completely unrecognizable.

 

MC: Jumin… what is that? Lololol

MC: It looks like a brick but…

707: omg

707: it’s shaken

707: lololololololol

707: I thought it was a brick too lololol

Jumin Han: It’s not a brick.

707: but what is it? Lol

707: Ur heart?

707: Black and unknowable lololol

707: Mr. Corporate Director’s current feelings? Lol

Jumin Han: It’s a steak

Jumin Han: I though commoners ate this too.

MC: Oh geez lololol

707: Dude.

707: I knew u couldn’t drive.

707: but didn’t realize u suck at taking photos too.

MC: So maybe… gap moe? ^^

Jumin Han: … what does that mean?

707: lololololololol Omg u know that word!! Lol

MC: yeah

MC: I have an occasional soft spot for silly romance manga ^^;;

707: lolololol

Jumin Han: If you are not happy with my photo, I will say this

Jumin Han: A photo should be taken by a photographer

Jumin Han: Which I am not

MC: But Jumin, all the photos you take of Elizabeth the 3rd are wonderful

Jumin Han: Elizabeth the 3rd’s beauty shines through no matter who photographs her

Jumin Han: A blind man could still take breathtaking pictures of her without struggle

707: lololololol

707: Elly is the best <3 <3

MC: ^^;

 

Meijeong finished up her sandwich and laughed as the conversation became silly, comparing Jumin’s cat obsession and money spending to Seven’s sports cars. She was a little confused about why Jumin was in the chatroom. It seemed a little discourteous to be on the phone when he was with family, but he assured them that his father and the new girlfriend had not noticed.

When Jumin eventually revealed that his father’s new girlfriend was a celebrity (Glam Choi? Meijeong remembered hearing the name before, but couldn’t picture a face.) Seven got excited. Apparently, she was famous enough for Seven to want her autograph, to sell. Jumin didn’t take kindly the to suggestion.

Meijeong looked up at the clock and sighed. The laundry should be almost finished drying, and then it was time for work. She logged off as Seven began teasing Jumin about his lack of relationships and pestered about whether or not Jumin was gay. She usually didn’t mind Seven’s teasing, and she genuinely meant it when she said Jumin’s should feel free to be open about it if he was, but it felt like Seven sometimes took that particular joke a bit too far.

As she folded laundry, Meijeong debated what to wear to work. It was one of the fall days where it was actually sort of hot in the day, but would probably be quiet cool when she got off work that night. Some days, she liked not having to wear a uniform at work, but others it just made getting ready harder. Eventually, she decided on a short, lightweight dress with chunky, lace-up boots and leggings, and grabbed her leather jacket for later. Some jewelry and a messy bun for her wavy hair, and she was ready to go. Her taste tended to lean towards hipster over the past year, she had noticed. Subin would be proud.

It was sunny and bright outside, and the autumn colors in the trees were starting to really peak. As she walked, Meijeong thought about how much different Jumin’s life was. It wasn’t just the money; though to be fair, a lot of it was the money. It felt like his family lived in a completely different world. Maybe that’s why it was so hard for Jumin to empathize with others. Of all the RFA members, she found him the most confusing. He had always been kind to her but… Meijeong absentmindedly kicked at the leaves she walked past and sighed.

Jumin’s behavior was still seemed confusing and contradictory at times. He could be kind and thoughtful one minute, then completely oblivious to what others were feeling the next. There was just a lot about him that she didn’t know yet, and it didn’t seem likely that he was going to open up. Obviously, Jumin had a lot of complicated feelings towards his father. They cared deeply about each other, but Jumin was clearly frustrated with his dad’s dating habits, and frankly, Meijeong couldn’t blame him for that. It was funny to her, though, that he couldn’t see just how similar he and his father were when it came to love. His father apparently lost all business sense when he fell for a woman, and from what Meijeong had seen, Jumin was exactly the same… except in his case, the woman who caused him to lose all business sense was a cat. Poor Jaehee seemed to constantly be dealing with some new cat related project or another that Jumin did for “the benefit of society, not profit”.

“He’s like, the human embodiment of capitalism half the time and a crazy cat lady the other half,” she mused out loud. When she arrived at the bookshop, Sun-mi was helping a customer at the register.

“Hey, good afternoon,” Meijeong said cheerfully, sliding behind Sun-mi to reach her apron and nametag.

“Hello, Meijeong,” Sun-mi replied, equally cheerfully, but in a drawn out, fake customer service voice. When the customer she was ringing out left, Sun-mi sighed dramatically.

“Long day?” said Meijeong.

“Not really,” Sun-mi groaned, “Just that last customer. He made me look for a specific first edition of this old novel. Except the edition he wanted was from a year before the book was actually published. Not that he would believe me on that.”

“Hey, customer is always right,” joked Meijeong, “Until they’re horribly wrong.”

Sun-mi just flopped her head down on the counter and moaned, “An hour, Mei. He made me look for an hour, until finally Mr. Park came down from the office and of course the jerk believed him when he told him exactly what I just said.”

“Sexist idiot,” Meijeong said as she flipped through the notes from the day.

“Seriously though,” said Sun-mi, her voice muffled. More customers walked in, and Sun-mi immediately sat up and smiled her widest. “Hello! Welcome to Park’s Bookshelf, is there anything I can help you with today?”

Meijeong smothered a laugh and started getting together the first of the book orders listed. Business was steady for a while after that, a constant stream of customers coming in and out. There was even a line at the register at some points, typical for a weekend afternoon. Eventually, though, things slowed down enough for Meijeong to take a short break. She sat down in the back, and opened the RFA app.

No one was online, (probably for the best, she didn’t have long) so she skimmed through the chatroom logs quickly. Zen and Jumin had been bickering again, though it seemed to have gotten a little nastier than usual. Zen didn’t approve of Jumin’s attitude at lunch, finding it disrespectful like a spoiled child, and Jumin felt that Zen was excessively judgmental without understanding anything about the situation. Meijeong sighed. There was nothing she could do about it now, and the conversation reminded her of something she wanted to ask Sun-mi.

“Hey, Sun-mi,” began Meijeong when the store had finally slowed down later that evening, “Have you ever heard of the actress Glam Choi? I know the name is familiar but-“

“Ugh! Her?” Sun-mi interrupted, “She hasn’t been in anything good in years. The only reason people talk about her now is because she got in that huge social media fight with Echo Girl.”

“Hmmm… I remember vaguely hearing about that now,” Meijeong said. “But what movies has she been in? I can’t think of any.”

“I dunno. A lot of romantic comedies that were cute back in the day,” Sun-mi replied, “Oh! She was the love interest one of the Bonde movies. But Nathaniel Craig said she was horrible to work with and she hasn’t done anything good since then.”

“Oh yeah! Okay, now I remember,” Meijeong said. “Die Twice Live Forever...? I think? She was okay. Kind of relied more on her looks than her acting though.”

“Yeah,” Sun-mi replied, “Like I said, nothing good in years. Why were you asking, anyway?”

“Oh…” Meijeong had to think of an answer, “Someone was going on about her in line at the grocery store. Some scandal or something."

"Probably the Echo Girl twitter feud."

"Yeah. But I knew the name sounded familiar, and I didn’t have time to look it up.”

“What name sounded familiar, dear?” Mrs. Lee walked in. Her usual flower-patterned shawl had been switched with a knitted one that had intricately embroidered fall leaf patterns.

“Hello, Mrs. Lee,” Meijeong said, smiling at the sight of her favorite customer, “Is it that time again already?”

“Glam Choi, Mrs. Lee,” answered Sun-mi, "Meijeong was trying to remember what movies she had been in." Her customer service smile plastered on. Mrs. Lee was decidedly not one of her favorites, and she winced as Mrs. Lee began taking books off of shelves.

“Oh, her!” Mrs. Lee exclaimed, picking up a book from one of the displays, “She was wonderful in that one movie… oh, what was it. The Nicholas Parks one, with the ghost.”

“There’s like, at least 3 of his movies with ghosts,” muttered an annoyed Sun-mi under her breath, and Meijeong coughed loudly, shooting her a warning look. Mrs. Lee appeared not to have noticed, and set the book down on the wrong display.

“Did you have any ideas about what you wanted for book club this month Mrs. Lee?” Meijeong said cheerfully, picking up the books Mrs. Lee left sitting out of place in her wake.

“Haven’t the slightest idea,” Mr. Lee replied, “Surprise me.” Those were Meijeong’s favorite words from her.

“Hmm…” Normally, Mrs. Lee’s taste was for more modern writing, but surprising her meant trying something different. All the talk of romance and actors got her thinking… She ran her hands across the spines of books in the “Classics” section. Meanwhile Mrs. Lee wandered around the store totally oblivious to Sun-mi’s frequent eye rolling. Meijeong’s hand stopped on a title that suddenly reminded her of something.

“Mrs. Lee, do you and the ladies ever go out to watch musical theater productions?”

Mrs. Lee sighed. “Oh, not as much as I would like dear,” she said, “Finding time for our little book club is hard enough as it is.”

Meijeong smiled.

“I know… a friend… who was in a production of Zorro a while ago,” Meijeong said, pulling the book from the shelf, “And it got me thinking about romances involving righteous outlaws, Robin Hood type character.”

“Ohhhh… mmhmm,” nodded Mrs. Lee, “Every woman loves a bad boy now and again. Well, bad boys who aren’t too bad...” She set down another book in the wrong place and walked over to Meijeong, grinning in a mischievous sort of way that was a little strange to see on a woman of her age. “Devilish rogues, and the like.”

“Here,” said Meijeong, handing her the book, “It’s an older one, definitely something different and surprising for the ladies. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. The first masked hero with a secret identity, in 18th century Revolutionary France.”

“Interesting…” Mrs. Lee examined the book, reading the summary on the cover, “Well, I’m not so sure, but I’ve said that before and you haven’t failed me yet.” She smiled jovially.

Meijeong noticed Sun-mi looking at her strangely as she rang Mrs. Lee out. Once Mrs. Lee left, the store was empty for the first time since Meijeong’s shift started. She met Sun-mi’s eyes and raised her eyebrows questioningly.

“What?” Meijeong said, chuckling.

“Who on earth do you know who’s in musical theater?” Sun-mi said, “You never talk about your friends, except Mr. Park’s niece with the piercings who moved to America.”

“Subin,” Meijeong laughed, correcting her, “I have other friends, you know.”

“Sure… but is it a boyfriend?” Sun-mi stretched the word out, teasing. She leaned across the customer side of the counter, resting on her elbows with her chin in her hands.

“You don’t get to know all my secrets,” Meijeong said. She poked Sun-mi’s forehead, playfully pushing her back. “And no, he’s just a friend.”

“But he is a boy!” Sun-mi exclaimed, grinning wildly, “Tell me tell me tell me!”

Now that the store had slowed down, Aslan came padding out into the main floor of the store. He bounced up on the counter, and rubbed against Meijeong’s arms affectionately.

“Hey Aslan,” Meijeong grinned, deliberately ignoring the excited teenager girl front of her. She scratched his ears and neck, small amounts of ginger fur floating loose as she did. “We should get to work putting all of Mrs. Lee’s lost books back where they belong, meow? It’s almost closing time meow.”

“Uuggghhhh Meeeiii!!” Sun-mi groaned. She scooped Aslan and made him dance a little, talking for him. “Meow meow, come on Meijeong, tell Sun-mi about your secret boyfriend, meow meow meow!” The cat gave an indignant ‘mraw’ before squirming loose and darting up to the store window, where he stared grumpily at Sun-mi.

“I told you, he’s not my boyfriend,” Meijeong said, checking the time on her phone. It actually was close to the closing time, and so she started cleaning up a bit. Sun-mi grabbed her arm, clinging to Meijeong as Meijeong picked up a few books to put away.

“Gahhhh, if he’s not your boyfriend then at least tell me his name so I can date him,” Sun-mi said.

“Fine,” sighed Meijeong dramatically, teasing, “You know how I said I was going to start doing charity work again? He’s part of that organization. His stage name is Zen, I guess he’s pretty popular?”

“Charity organization?” Sun-mi groaned, “He’s probably a nerd then.”

“There’s social media stuff about him everywhere, you should look it up and see,” Meijeong said, “I watched one of his shows on DVD, he’s actually quite good.”

“Sure, whatever,” Sun-mi replied, letting go of Meijeong’s arm and picking up another stack of Mrs. Lee’s wayward books.

The rest of the shift went by quickly. Meijeong had to stay late to sort and unload an order, but things were peaceful and soon, Meijeong was locking up the front door and heading back to the apartment for the night. She had been right in grabbing a jacket earlier, the night air was definitely cold. Thankfully, the breeze had died off, so the walk home wasn’t too bad. She checked her phone as she walked, careful to pay attention to her surroundings.

There was more in the chatroom from Yoosung. He had gotten angry about V’s lack of activity in the messenger again. Meijeong felt bad, especially because there was nothing she could do about it. She sent him a quick private message.

Hey LOLOL Warrior Yoosung, are you feeling okay? I saw that you got a little upset in the chatroom.”

No response, probably because he was playing the game at that very moment. He spent a lot of time on LOLOL.

“He should just start playing professionally,” Meijeong said to herself, “He’s probably good enough, with how much time he puts in.” Putting her phone away, she sang quietly under her breath as she walked in the dark. Meijeong wished she could do something more than just be cheerful and encouraging for everyone, but until V got back to them about potential party dates… maybe she would try and go visit Yoosung at least. Maybe that would distract him from worrying so much.

A hot shower made everything seem better. Sighing, Meijeong sat on the couch in her pajamas and dried her hair with a towel. She wished there was something more she could do besides just wait. Opening the app, she responded to Yoosung’s reply. Of course, he was worried about her now. He didn’t need to, but Meijeong would be lying if she said it wasn’t bothering her that so far she hadn’t been able to do much of anything for the group.

There was talk of reaching out to potential guests, but until… V! V was in the chatroom. Meijeong immediately said hello and V seemed relieved to find someone else there. A few seconds later, Jumin also logged in.

The first few minutes were about the party. Even though V hadn’t set a date yet, Seven had told him that people were feeling nervous, so he had stopped in to reassure everyone that the party would happen. Soon, however, the conversation turned to more casual matters. It surprised her how much more… natural Jumin’s tone was when it was just him and V. Meijeong smiled as she followed along, watching the two go back and forth about family and good-heartedly nagging each other.

She wondered if this was what the chatroom looked like all the time before Rika died.

V had to leave again quicker than Jumin would have liked, but at least he seemed to feel much more confident about the party then before. And even though they didn’t have a set date yet, Meijeong was finally going to be able to start reaching out to potential guests. She stretched her arms above her head, feeling immense relief. It had taken a little time, but finally, Meijeong be able to do the work she joined the RFA for. But first…

Seeing the way Jumin was with V tonight had been eye-opening, and she felt comfortable enough to ask him about some more personal stuff for once.

 

MC: I feel like you two haven’t seen each other for a while…

Jumin Han: It’s not as if we never see each other.

Jumin Han: We’ve been friends for a long time, so that doesn’t mean much.

Jumin Han: If you are worried about our relationship, that’s very kind of you.

MC: I understand.

MC: My closest friend and I don’t get to see each other very often anymore either

MC: But there are some friendships that time and distance can’t effect

MC: when you’re that close to someone, staying friends with them is as easy as breathing

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: It feels very strange

Jumin Han: to have you see me talking with V when you haven’t been here for long.

Jumin Han: We used to talk on the phone often, but we rarely do these days.

Jumin Han: We each have our own lives, so there’s nothing you can do about that.

MC: You’re a lot different when it’s just you and V

Jumin Han: Really? I hadn’t noticed.

MC: Yeah

MC: It feels like you relax around him

Jumin Han: I see

MC: It’s nice ^^

MC: you know how to talk to each other so that things don’t get misunderstood

MC: It’s not like when you and Zen talk- you can criticize each other and understand how to say it in a way that shows you mean well

Jumin Han: Since V and I have known each other since childhood, it only makes sense.

Jumin Han: It’s not necessary for me to feel similarly around other people

MC: What about Rika?

MC: Sorry, I don’t mean to pry. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: I suppose I probably appeared more relaxed around Rika as well

Jumin Han: Rika and V are both unique people

Jumin Han: And even though I hadn’t known Rika since childhood like V, she was very good at understanding me when others could not.

Jumin Han: What happened to Rika was a blow to both V and I.

MC: I see.

MC: I’m sorry. But it’s good to have people like that in your life

MC: I think having people who understand you helps you better understand yourself

Jumin Han: I’m not sure I know what you mean by that

MC: That’s okay

MC: I tend to think emotionally, so I can’t always explain what I mean logically

MC: which I know makes it harder for someone who thinks so logically like you to follow what I mean

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: Unlike Zen, you don’t judge me for thinking differently

Jumin Han: I appreciate that

MC: I’m just glad I got to see a different side of you today ^^

MC: it was nice

Jumin Han: I don’t know what to say to that

Jumin Han: It’s late. You should get some sleep.

MC: I will. Thanks Jumin. Give Elizabeth the 3rd my love.

Jumin Han: Yes, of course.

Jumin Han: Goodnight.

Jumin Han left the chat room

MC left the chat room

 

After that, Meijeong was up pretty late. Always more of a night owl, and she was supposed to have the next morning off as well. It was nice. She drank tea, read a few chapters of a new book, and spent some time chatting with Seven for a bit about childhood friends. She had purposefully done all her chores already so that for once, she could actually sleep in and take it slow in the morning. That plan, however, was ruined when she received an early phone call from the shop right as she was waking up. It was Mr. Park.

“Meijeong, I’m so sorry to call you now, but…” he began, “I forgot to mail a book order because of everything that was going on last week. To SKY National University. My old friend, the English professor just called and she needs it by today. I hate to bother you, but Sun-mi is at school and I don’t have anyone else.” He sounded really stressed. “There’s a few people coming to pick up orders at the store, or I’d close up and run it over myself. I’ll pay you for overtime, if you could just run the box over…”

“It’s not a problem, Mr. Park, really,” she said, rubbing her eyes and trying hard not to yawn on the phone and make him feel even more guilty, “Just give me a half hour and I’ll be there.”

“Thank you, Meijeong,” Mr. Park, “I’ll have it ready for you when you get here. Its not heavy, but I’ll pay for a cab just to be safe.”

After hanging up the phone, Meijeong got dressed quickly, throwing on a sweater and some skinny jeans. She brushed her teeth with one hand and her hair with the other, grateful that she had showered the night before. Deciding against taking time for breakfast, Meijeong grabbed an apple and tossed it in her purse and rushed out the door.

When she got to the shop, Mr. Park was waiting for her, apologizing profusely, no matter how much she told him it was no trouble. Even as she climbed into the cab, he was still apologizing. Meijeong just smiled and waved goodbye. Mr. Park had been so kind to her with the job and getting back into the workforce, she didn’t mind helping him out. The cab driver wasn’t very talkative, which gave her time to eat the apple and check her phone. Yoosung and Jaehee were in the chatroom, talking about Jumin’s love life- or lack thereof.

The general consensus seemed to be what Meijeong’s already knew. Gay, straight, or otherwise, it didn’t matter: Jumin Han’s love could only ever be Elizabeth the 3rd. Meijeong laughed the whole way to the university as she talked with them.

 

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han seems to have no interest in being in a relationship

Jaehee Kang: but also

Jaehee Kang: there are countless number of women

Jaehee Kang: who approach Mr. Han regardless of his feelings.

Yoosung*: OMG

Yoosung*: Is he sick of women??

Jaehee Kang: I think he has simply mastered it.

Yoosung*: Mastered?

Yoosung*: ??

MC: That makes sense.

MC: Probably an unfortunate side effect of being the heir to massive company

Jaehee Kang: Yes but also

Jaehee Kang: During business negotiations, he uses his eloquence and charms

Jaehee Kang: to coax women

Jaehee Kang: to get them to sign contracts

Jaehee Kang: and doesn’t even give them a glance afterwards

MC: ouch

MC: that’s harsh

Jaehee Kang: Anyway, I cannot deny the fact that Mr. Han’s good looks help our business.

Jaehee Kang: I do not with to admit it

Jaehee Kang: But he is quite talented at using his looks

Jaehee Kang: So you can imagine how good the effect is

Yoosung*: The world of business

Yoosung*: is very cruel…

MC: ;;

MC: Maybe he’ll open up if he finds someone he likes…?

MC: Someone he thinks can understand him?

Yoosung*: Yeah!

Yoosung*: I’m sure that’s the case

Jaehee Kang: I wonder whether there is such a person.

Jaehee Kang: A woman who can understand AND handle Mr. Han;;;

Jaehee Kang: Well;;;

Yoosung*: Hmm.

 

The conversation turned to Jumin’s father. His dating habits certainly were part of the reason for Jumin’s dislike for dating. Apparently, tabloids were already talking about his date with Glam Choi from the day before, which was making all sorts of trouble for Jaehee. Meijeong felt bad, but then the cab arrived, and she had to leave.

SKY University was about 45 minutes away in all the traffic. The campus was much, much larger than the school Meijeong had attended and it took a minute for her to figure out where the English and Languages Building was. The books weren't heavy, but after walking around campus for a minute the box was beginning to feel awkward. Thankfully, the professor’s office was right on the first floor, and so she was able to drop them off without any trouble. Meijeong bowed and apologized for the inconvenience, but the professor was surprised that Mr. Park had rushed them over so quickly.

“I didn’t need them today,” she said, “I told him he could have mailed them today and it would have been alright.”

“Mr. Park just wanted to be careful,” Meijeong said, mentally laughing about the whole situation, “He hates when he makes a mistake. I’m sure as an old friend of his, you understand.”

“All too well,” the woman replied, shaking her head and smiling, “Well, thank you for your hard work.”

“Of course, it was my pleasure.”

The situation taken care of, Meijeong decided to stop by the coffee shop she saw on her way across campus. Even if her original plans for the morning had gone sideways, she could at least treat herself to a latte and a pastry before she had to go back. It was strange to be on a college campus again. Meijeong hadn’t particularly enjoyed it the first time around, but it was funny, seeing all the students. The freshman in particular made her laugh- they were so young looking now. Then, wandering amongst the crowds further ahead, she saw… Yoosung?

Meijeong couldn’t be sure. She’d only seen him in pictures, after all, and the blond boy was pretty far ahead and looking down at his phone. She knew he was a university student, but she hadn't actually bothered to figure out which university. Plus, it’s not like he could recognize her. What were the odds that she just happened upon him by accident? Picking up her pace, she got closer. There, in his hair, were those trademark crossed pins.

“Hi, um, excuse me?” Meijeong walked up to him, trying not to grin like an idiot, “Are you Yoosung Kim?”

“Uh,” Yoosung looked up and was suddenly very flustered by the sight of strange girl talking to him out of nowhere. It was cute. “Yeah. I mean. Yes, I am.”

Meijeong half-debated messing with him and playing some sort of prank (Seven would be proud, she thought) but decided against it. It didn’t seem right for the first meeting.

“Hi,” she said cheerfully. She brushed her hair back, feeling a tiny bit awkward, but mostly just excited. “My name is Meijeong Chen. It’s nice to finally meet you!” She was glad she decided to just come out and say it without joking around. Seeing the stunned shock on Yoosung’s face was so much fun.

Chapter Text

“Gah. What… I mean…” Yoosung’s mouth was hanging open and his eyes were wide. “You’re… no way… NO WAY!” He closed his mouth and then his face flushed neon red. Stammering words that were no longer intelligible… his reaction was so extreme that Meijeong even blushed a little.

“Uh, yeah…” she said, waving her hands awkwardly, “I didn’t mean to surprise you like this. I was here for work, I didn’t know you went to this school…”

“Oh, uhm,” Yoosung seemed to be calming down from the initial shock. Hands behind his head, he grinned, “Yeah, haha, I guess I never mentioned where I went to school… I’m just… I wasn’t expecting to meet you so soon. Gah…” He was blushing again and fiddled with the strap of his bag.

“I know, it’s strange, right?” Meijeong smiled. He was adorable. “I’m sorry I surprised you like that, but I was just so excited to finally meet someone from the RFA that I couldn’t help it.”

“No! I’m glad you did! This is so exciting!” said Yoosung, eyes sparkling. “Everyone is going to be so jealous, haha!”

Meijeong laughed, a fall breeze ruffling her and Yoosung’s hair both. The campus was starting to look more crowded and people surged around the two of them standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Looking around, Meijeong realized they were in kind of a busy walkway.

“Do you want to go get coffee or something? I’d love to get to know you a bit,” Meijeong said. Yoosung blushed again, but then he paused, looking thoughtful.

“I was actually just on my way back from a coffee club meeting,” he said, “So I’m kind of sick of coffee for a bit.”

Meijeong frowned. “Well, how about an early lunch then? I have to get something to eat before I go to work anyway.”

“Oh-okay!” stammered Yoosung, “If you don’t mind cafeteria food, we can go there.”

Meijeong nodded and followed Yoosung as they started walking.

“Coffee club?” she said, suddenly remembering something, “I thought you were in… uh, what was it?”

“Cooking club? Haha yeah…” Yoosung looked sheepish, “I actually just changed clubs.”

“Really? Why?” Meijeong said, “I thought you really liked that club?”

“I did but…” Yoosung looked down and kicked at the crunchy dead leaves that rolled across the path in front of them. “I dunno… I wanted to try something new.”

There was something about the tone of his voice that made Meijeong think there was more to it than that. She bit her lip thoughtfully. She didn’t have much time to think, however, because Yoosung started hitting her with a barrage of questions. Why was she there? What was her job like? Did she like working there? He clammed up if she asked him about classes or his major though. It was kind of strange.

The conversation stalled for a bit after that, making them both feel awkward. Meijeong really didn’t know what to say to him. Then, a sudden gust of wind blew all of her hair forward, wrapping around her face and Meijeong couldn’t see, and that was enough to break the tension for her. Meijeong started laughing hysterically. When she finally managed to pull it back out of her eyes, still laughing, she looked over and saw Yoosung blushing hard again.

“What?” she said, smiling and twisting her hair to one side so it was out of the way.

“You know, Seven was right,” Yoosung said, “You are really cute.”

“Oh… thanks,” said Meijeong, “You’re cute too Yoosung.” His face turned bright scarlet and he looked away. Yeah, he was an adorable kid.

The cafeteria wasn’t at all crowded; it was still a little early for a lunch rush. The food looked… well, it was cafeteria food, Meijeong knew from her own experience with university not to expect much. Still, it was nice to eat with someone for a change. The fried rice wasn’t particularly well seasoned, so they both at slowly and talked in between bites.

“I’m kind of almost nervous, now that I have to start emailing guests about the party,” Meijeong said, “It all feels so much more real now.”

“Mhmmm,” Yoosung had a mouth full of food, but once he swallowed it, “Don’t worry! We’ll all help you out. I’m just glad that you’re going to be continuing Rika’s work.”

“Yeah,” replied Meijeong, “I’m sure she’s happy to have her legacy continue.”

“I think so too,” said Yoosung. He paused, absentmindedly pushing his food around with his chopsticks. “You know… I feel complicated.”

Uh-oh, Meijeong thought to herself, “Because you think I’m like Rika?”

“No… well, yes, you are,” he replied, causing Meijeong to fidget and bite her lip, “But that’s not it. If you have a little time, could you hear me out for a sec?”

“Of course,” said Meijeong, setting down her chopsticks and leaning forward in her seat.

“Thank you. To be honest, I didn’t want to talk about this with another member… I don’t think they’ll get it…” Yoosung looked down, fidgeting in his seat. “But it’s about V. I think he’s getting really quiet and secretive nowadays.” He met her eyes, frowning a bit.

“You might not be able to tell now but V used to be really active and talk a lot. I mean, he wasn’t a chatterbox but he was always good at expressing his emotions.” Yoosung continued, “But ever since Rika passed away, he became quieter and quieter… and now…”

Meijeong nodded thoughtfully as Yoosung turned away. His brow furrowed and he looked, almost angry.

“I just waited for him, you know? I know it was really hard for him, so I thought he’d say something after time passes. But that wasn’t the case. He became a completely different person after that day. He doesn’t really seem to care a lot about the RFA either…” His hands, sitting on top of the table, clenched into tight fists.

“Yoosung…” Meijeong wanted to reach over and take his hand, but since they had only just met… “Everyone deals with grief in their own way. I know I…” She paused, chewing on her bottom lip, “I’m sure he still cares a lot. He’s just mourning Rika. He’s probably depressed, and depression… well it can make a person seem like they don’t care when really they care so much that it hurts.”

“Do you really think so? I don’t know anymore. No one knows unless he speaks. I mean, I guess I don’t know what he does on his own…” Yoosung’s voiced trailed off. He took a deep breath and continued. “But nothing will change if he keeps quiet. I still don’t know why he’s being stubborn and keeping quiet when people want to know what went on.”

Meijeong stopped in the middle of reaching her drink. “What went on?”

“Rika’s suicide… he never really gave us any details. It just felt…”

“Like you never got any closure.”

“Yeah!” Yoosung said, looking at her, angry, but surprised that she understood, “Exactly!”

There was silence for a minute, but it didn’t feel nearly as awkward as before. Meijeong sipped her drink, letting Yoosung take his time organizing his thoughts into words. He picked up his chopsticks but didn’t eat, just pushed his food around again.

“Anyways, I guess I should be happy that we’re having the party again. I hope V comes back to normal soon,” he smiled at her, “I’ll do my best to help with whatever I can. The only thing I’m good at is playing games, but I’m sure there’s something I can do to help.”

“Thanks Yoosung,” Meijeong said brightly, grinning.

“Thank you for hearing me out today,” he said, letting out a relaxed sigh, “I feel much better after getting that out of my system.”

“Sometimes just talking about things helps,” she replied cheerfully.

“Yeah…” he said. He took a bite of food, chewing thoughtfully, then continued. “You really are a lot like Rika. She was the only one who would listen to me like this.”

“You know…” Meijeong frowned, “I’m not Rika, Yoosung. I don’t know much about her, but I do know that I can’t replace someone.”

“I know, but…” Yoosung said, “Well, I’m glad you’re here.”

Meijeong laughed, feeling a little awkward. “We should take a selfie, when we’re done eating. So you have proof for the RFA that we met.” She grinned and Yoosung’s face lit up like a Christmas tree.

“Oh yeah!!” he laughed, “Zen is never going to believe me otherwise. And Seven will definitely try and say we made it up.”

They finished their lunch quickly after that. The cafeteria was finally starting to fill up with students as they threw out the trays and went back outside. Meijeong was actually a bit taller than Yoosung, they realized, so she held his phone and snapped a quick picture in the sunlight.

“We look so good,” she said with a smile, handing the phone back to Yoosung, “Too bad my hair is still a mess from the wind.”

“No, no!” Yoosung replied, “You look so cute, I’m the one who’s a mess.” They both laughed.

“I have to get to work,” Meijeong said, “But I’m really glad I got to meet you, Yoosung.”
“Me too,” Yoosung replied, “Bye!”

“Bye!”

They parted ways; Yoosung had to go to class, and Meijeong started walking back to where she had seen a bus stop. She was probably going to be a little late for work, so she called Mr. Park to let him know.

On the bus, she opened the RFA app. Yoosung had posted their selfie in the chatroom, but no one else had been there to see it. She smiled. It was a cute picture. Yoosung was a cute kid. She left the chatroom and check through the RFA emails. A few organizations had contacted her and she spent the remainder of the bus ride researching them. A cat shelter… a model agency… a food pantry… and… a writer’s guild. Interesting. She didn’t want to reply until she had thoroughly looked into each one- not because she doubted their usefulness, but because she wanted to make sure she didn’t say anything wrong to them. She got to work before she could look into more than two of them, so she slipped her phone into her back pocket in case things were slow.

Things were slow, at least as far as customers were concerned, but Mr. Park had received a huge book shipment that needed inventoried and a dozen special orders that had to be put together. Meijeong sighed and started sorting through the boxes. Eventually, Sun-mi came in for shift. Meijeong was in the back, but she heard the sound of the bell ringing and Aslan, “hello friend” meows. All normal things for a day at work. What wasn’t normal was for Sun-mi to come charging into the back, screaming her name.

“MEI! MEI! Meeeeiiiiiiiii!!!” Sun-mi was almost screechy, and Meijeong couldn’t tell if she was upset or happy. “HE’S SO HOT.”

“Umm…” Meijeong was startled as Sun-mi waved her decorated pink phone in her face, unable to focus on what she was supposed to be looking at. Sun-mi grabbed her hands and squeezed them tightly, bouncing up and down, her twin-tails bouncing with her.

“Whyyyy, whyy did you not tell me about him sooner?” Sun-mi groaned, before slumping into Meijeong’s arms. “You have to date him. Or introduce me. PEOPLE THAT HOT NEED TO BE DATED BY SOMEONE. PREFERABLY ME.” Finally, it clicked what she was talked about.

“Ohhh,” Meijeong laughed, suddenly understanding, “You looked up Zen.”

“There’s like, entire Tripter’s devoted to him. And fan pages and the videos… I just,” Sun-mi sat back and sighed dramatically, “I just can’t even.”

“Haha. Well, he’ll be flattered,” Meijeong said. Most of the boxes were opened and sorted, so she knelt down and grabbed a huge armful of books that needed to go out onto the shelves. “Help me with this while you fangirl.”

“How can you be so calm about thiiiis?” Sun-mi said, whining but grabbing books anyway, “He’s so hot.”

Meijeong shook her head, smiling. “I don’t know. I mean, yeah, Zen is really, really hot, but…” she set the stack of books on the register counter and shrugged. “I dunno. I haven’t really thought of him that way.” She took the first few books off of the pile and started making her way through the bookshelves. These ones were all non-fiction…

“God, you’re insane,” Sun-mi said, dropping her books on the counter as well before grabbing her apron. “At least consider dating him. For all of the other girls who’ll never get that chance.”

Some customers walked in before Meijeong could think of a witty response, and it seemed to be the start of a rush. The store was crowded for the next hour, and Meijeong barely had time to put the remaining books away, let alone chat with Sun-mi. Aslan watched down on the chaos from the top of one of the shelves, tail flicking irritably after some young kids tried to reach up and pet him and woke him up. Eventually, though, the customers finished up, until finally there was only one group left. Sun-mi was finishing their purchase on the register while Meijeong finally started putting more of the book order away.

 

RING! RING RING! RING!

 

“Ah, shoot,” Meijeong had forgotten her phone was in her back pocket. She apologized profusely to the customers and ran into the back to answer it. It was Zen, and he was practically shouting when she picked up.

“BABE, HOW COME YOOSUNG IS THE FIRST ONE TO GET TO MEET YOU!?”

“Hey Zen,” Meijeong laughed, “It was completely on accident, I was at his school for work and we just ran into each other.”

“GAH!” Zen groaned, “That kid… how lucky can you get? Seriously…”

“Don’t be jealous,” Meijeong teased, “Just get a new show and I’ll come see you then.”

“Ugh, now I’m really bummed that the meeting today was just for a modeling job,” said Zen, “I am really jealous though. Now Seven and Yoosung get to know what you look like, and I don’t even have a clue.”

Meijeong’s brow furrowed, confused. “Didn’t Yoosung post that selfie we took? I thought I saw it…”

“Seven deleted it. Something about if we happened to see you going into Rika’s apartment, it would be bad for security,” Zen said, grumbling. Meijeong frowned.

“Yeah, but Yoosung knows what I look like now, so he could-“

“MEEeeeeiiiiiiii,” Sun-mi called back. The customers must have left. “Are you talking to the hottie?” Giggling, Sun-mi poked her head through the door. Meijeong rolled her eyes and waved her away, which seemed to be all confirmation Sun-mi needed. She ran up and wrapped her arms around her.

“Tell your boyfriend to stop by sometime…” she teased.

“Sun-mi, if you don’t leave me along I’m never covering a shift for you again,” Meijeong said. It was an empty threat, and Sun-mi knew it, but she fake pouted and left all the same.

“Sorry,” Meijeong said, shaking her head.

“Who’s that?” asked Zen, “Another cute girl?”

“My coworker, Sun-mi,” sighed Meijeong. Aslan slinked through the cat door to see what all the ruckus was about. “She’s your newest fan.”

“Oh, so you told her about me?” Zen said, and Meijeong smiled, practically able to hear his vanity increasing. “I’m blushing.”

“Well, yeah, of course,” she said. Aslan rubbed against her and she scratched between his ears, “I didn’t talk too much about the RFA or anything, because I didn’t want to spill any secrets, but your name came up.” She leaned the phone between her ear and shoulder and started sorting out the last box of the book deliveries as she spoke. Even though Mr. Park wasn’t there, Meijeong didn’t like not working at all while she was on the job.

“Did you talk to her about any of the other members?”

“Actually, no. Just you,” said Meijeong, sorting a stack of the latest teen romance novels to be carried out.

“Aw, babe…” Zen crooned, “I guess I can live with Yoosung being the first one to meet you then, if I’m the only one you talk about with your friend.”

“Friend… more like hyperactive little sister slash coworker,” Meijeong laughed. “I’d tell you to come visit me at work and meet her too, but there’s a cat here.”

“Ugh, no thanks,” said Zen, “I’ll just get a new role and have you come to me. Or we could get coffee sometime~”

“Alright, we’ll see,” Meijeong said. She gave the ginger cat one last scratch and grabbed the stack of paperbacks, leaning it against her hip with one arm. “I have to get back to work, I kind of took your call while I was on the clock.”

“Ah~” Zen said, “I’m flattered, but you probably shouldn’t do that.” Meijeong could tell he was smiling though, “See you in the chatroom later then, babe.”

“Yep, bye!” She hung up and this time, she left her phone on silent in the backroom. Sun-mi was furious at her lack of flirting, though Meijeong wasn’t positive who she was supposed to be flirting for.

Eventually, work was done and Meijeong was able to go home and rest. Pajamas, tea, and RFA emails while she was wrapped in a blanket on the couch was becoming a familiar way to spend an evening, and she didn’t mind in the slightest. There was one thing bothering her though. She checked the chatroom, and thankfully, Seven was there.

 

MC has entered the chatroom

MC: Hey Seven!

707: hey hey

707: hiya

707: ^^

MC: How come you deleted Yoosung and I’s selfie~?

MC: Hmmm….?? ^^

707: GAH

707: I’VE BEEN FOUND OUT

707: >.<

MC: Yes

MC: Your wicked deed has been discovered

707: wicked??

707 ME??

707:

707: I deleted because…

707: it’s a secret

707: ;;

MC: lolololol

MC: but for real

MC: Is it actually for security reasons?

MC: Or are you just messing with everyone?

MC: Bc Yoosung could always just text it to everyone outside the messenger

707: Well….

707: he can’t

707: because

707: I may have also hacked into his phone

707: and…

707:

Seven posted a picture of an explosion. Meijeong just started giggling, even though she didn’t quite understand why.

MC: Yoosung is going to be mad ^^;;

Yoosung* entered the chatroom.

707: GAH

Yoosung*: SEVEN!!!!!!!

Yoosung*: !!!

Yoosung*: WHY

Yoosung*: WHY WOULD YOU DELETE OUR PRECIOUS SELFIE

Yoosung*: !!!!

707: T_T

707: I’m sorry Yoosung

707: I had to

Yoosung*: Were you just jealous or something!?!?

Yoosung*: !!!!!

Yoosung’s angry face emojis covered the entire chat room.

707: T_T

707: I’m sorry

707: I thought it was safer this way

Yoosung*: asjcnjksldjak

MC: Yoosung, it’s okay

MC: You’re the only one who’s gotten to meet me so far

MC: So at least you have that

Yoosung*: But it was our first picture together

Yoosung*: and now it’s gone

Yoosung*: T_T

707: T_T

707: It’s not GONE-gone

707: I just…

707: put it away somewhere

707: temporarily

Yoosung* -_-

Yoosung*: So you stole it

707:

707: Just call a from work

707: I have to go!

707 has left the chat room.

Yoosung*:

MC:

Yoosung*: Sometimes I don’t understand Seven at all;;

MC: Don’t worry about it too much

MC: I’m glad I got to meet you today ^^

Yoosung*: Yeah!

Yoosung*: We might not have the photo

Yoosung*: But I still got to meet you face to face

Yoosung*: And that’s much better

Yoosung*: Seven doesn’t even have that

MC: ^^

Yoosung*: Oh

Yoosung*: My lolol guildmates just messaged me

Yoosung*: I said I would do this quest with them tonight

MC: Okay, have fun! Don’t stay up too late!

Yoosung*: Yep! Goodnight

Yoosung* has left the chatroom

MC has left the chatroom

 

Meijeong shook her head. She didn’t know why Seven would do something so strange with no purpose… everyone said he was completely random, but that wasn’t quite true. Everything he did, every joke or prank or random conversation served some purpose or another- it just wasn’t always one that made sense to most people. She sighed. Tomorrow was a morning shift, so after responding to some of the RFA emails, she went to bed. The blankets and soft sheets were warm and snuggly, perfect nestling into on a chilly fall night, and so even with Seven's mysterious behavior on her mind, Meijeong drifted to sleep almost immediately.

Chapter Text

Things were falling into a comfortable routine for Meijeong- work, replying to emails from various organizations that were potential party guests, and chatting with the RFA. It had been more than a month since she had wandered into Rika’s apartment on behalf a stranger. It was her first full day off in a while, and she had been hoping to possibly meet up with one of the RFA members. But Jaehee was swamped with work, Jumin didn’t seem like the kind of person you just casually suggested hanging out with, and ZEN had rehearsals. She thought about calling Yoosung, but… Maybe it was silly, but Meijeong didn’t want the other members to feel like she was playing favorites. Plus, he was involved in some LOLOL campaign all day anyway. That only left Seven, but he always seemed so busy too…

“Agh, shit,” Meijeong accidentally over-watered one of her plants, causing dirt and water to pour over the edges onto the window ledge. She rushed it over to the sink, sliding breakfast dishes out of the way and dripping dirty water as she went. Grabbing a paper towel, she wiped the trails of drips and dried the pot off. With a sigh, she stared at her phone. Biting her lip, Meijeong picked it up. Even though she had just checked the messenger a few minutes ago and no one was there then, maybe someone had logged in.

Two someone’s had logged in actually- Jaehee and Seven. Unfortunately, it seemed that Jaehee was absolutely miserable, and her usual low tolerance for Seven’s jokes had become non-existent. Meijeong felt bad laughing. Grabbing some lunch, she sat at the kitchen counter and tried to mediate in between bites. The actual source of Jaehee’s problems soon became clear.

 

Jaehee Kang: It’s just…

Jaehee Kang: I’ve been helping Mr. Han get ready for his business trip.

Jaehee Kang: I didn’t even have time to eat lunch.

Jaehee Kang: But, I get the feeling that he is about to leave his cat with me,

Jaehee Kang: So I apologize if I seemed a bit irritable just now ^^

MC: Jaehee… I’m sorry, that’s rough.

MC: Hang in there!

Jaehee Kang: Thank you.

707: He should just leave the cat with me, lol

Jaehee Kang: Fat chance Jumin will ever leave her with you, lol

MC: Is Seven really that bad with animals?

707: no

707: Jumin doesn’t get me.

Jaehee Kang: Doesn’t get you?

707: <3 Do you know how adorable Elly is? <3 <3 <3

707: <3 I can be soooo good to her! <3 <3

707: >_<

707: She’s just so soft and fluffy and furry and cuddly

MC: I mean, that sounds okay…

707: so if u just

707: just

707: swing her around

MC: okay, well maybe don’t swing cats if they don’t like it

707: then like snowflakes, her white hair

Jaehee Kang: will get all over my clothes

MC: ^^;;

707: Uhm.

Jaehee Kang: Stop planning to abuse Mr. Han’s cat before I report you to the Animal Protection Association.

MC: Maybe Seven has his own way of loving?

707: Meijeong understands me

707: Me?? Animal abuse T_T

707: I just love Elly

707: <3 So much <3 <3

Jaehee Kang: -_-

Jaehee Kang: Didn’t you once talk about stretching her out to make her the next tall cat, or whatever it was?

707: Long cat

707: and

707:

707:

707: ^^;;

MC: SEVEN

MC: THAT’S AWFUL

MC: THAT’S NOT HOW CATS WOkr

Seven: ;;

MC: adsklj;nsdc;

707: T_T

MC: akjlaa’l’ajdksvnudfjsadallajdhfas

Jaehee Kang: As I said

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han will never allow you near the cat

MC: Sevenn….

707: T_T

707: Meijeong…

MC: I hope you were joking

MC: Or I’m going to have to seriously lecture you on animal care at some point

Jaehee Kang:

Jaehee Kang: Perhaps you can talk reason into him

Jaehee Kang: Regardless…

Jaehee Kang: why do I have to take care of this cat…?

MC: I mean…

MC: I could take care of her

MC: I worked in an animal shelter for a couple years

MC: Except the apartment location is classified >_<

Jaehee Kang: Perhaps

Jaehee Kang: that’s something you should discuss with Mr. Han

707: Wow, so cool!

707: >_<

MC: very cool, meow!

MC: but if I find out you’re doing horrible things to cats

MC: I will end you, meow ^^

707: GAH

707: SO SCARY

707: but

707: so cute

707:

707: i feel funny

Jaehee Kang: -_-

Jaehee Kang: Maybe you would be a good person to look after Elizabeth…

Jaehee Kang: I’ll discuss it with Mr. Han

Jaehee Kang: If we can find a solution that means I will no longer have to look after her

Jaehee Kang: You will have my eternal gratitude ^^

 

The conversation died as both Jaehee and Seven had to get back to work. Meijeong had casually mentioned watching Elizabeth the 3rd before, but seeing how Jaehee seemed to only be more and more overworked lately, Meijeong thought it might be time to be more assertive about the whole thing. She sent a private message to Jumin, just in case Jaehee was too busy to do it herself- no sense in giving Jaehee more work in the process of trying to relieve her of some. Plus, it would be a good reason to finally meet Jumin, and probably Jaehee too.

That settled, Meijeong decided to go grocery shopping. She checked the weather on her phone- it was going to be one of those fluke warm fall days- probably the last one of the season. Hmm… Maybe if she was lucky, then tonight… Well, for now, Meijeong threw on some lighter clothes in layers. She did a quick check in the mirror before she left- the purple plaid shirt was her favorite, but her long brown hair was a mess, the side-swept long bangs curling awkwardly. Meijeong sighed and pulled most of it back, half-up with a clip so at least most of it will stay out of her eyes.

In the grocery store, Meijeong was browsing the tea display, leaning on the cart lazily, when Jaehee called.

“Hey, Jaehee,” Meijeong answered cheerfully, “Were you able to get something to eat?” There was a long sigh on the other end of the line.

“I had a muffin with my coffee,” Jaehee said, sighing again, “Thank you for caring.”

“Hang in there,” Meijeong frowned, “Is there something I can help you with? I could at least bring you real food at work,” Meijeong paused briefly, setting a box of tea in her basket, and then smiled, “Or I could make a collage of Zen’s selfies for you.”

“That… would be wonderful. But I’m actually calling on Mr. Han’s behalf. He’s on a plane or he would have called you himself,” Jaehee said. “He was hoping to schedule a meeting with you at your earliest convenience to discuss you watching Elizabeth the 3rd.”

“Oh, wow! Great,” Meijeong exclaimed. She skipped a bit as she walked towards the produce section of the store. “I assume we’ll have to wait until after Jumin returns from his trip?" 

“Yes, of course, but he will be back tomorrow,” Jaehee said, “It’s a short trip to a grape farm. I believe you’ll be getting an email from the owners about the RFA party as well.”

“Oh, okay, great,” Meijeong said, inspecting the apples that were on sale, “I’ll keep an eye out for that.” 

“Yes, thank you,” Jaehee sounded much more cheerful now. The thought of no longer having to watch Elizabeth the 3rd was clearly bliss to her.

“Well, I work a late shift tomorrow,” Meijeong thought out loud, “I could meet with you after that, if it’s not too late for you and Jumin.”

“We work late hours often,” Jaehee said, “If it’s for Elizabeth the 3rd’s benefit, I’m sure Mr. Han won’t mind.”

“Very true,” Meijeong laughed.

“Yes… so why don’t we arrange to meet at the C&R Building after your shift is over?” Jaehee continued, “We can then go to Mr. Han’s apartment and introduce you to Elizabeth.”

“That sounds great Jaehee, thanks,” said Meijeong.

“No need to thank me,” Jaehee replied, “I’m only doing my job.”

“I know, but…” Meijeong bit her lip thoughtfully, “Well, once I know where you work, I can stop by and bring you lunches sometimes. So that I know you’re eating well.”

“Oh- I mean, that’s…” Jaehee stuttered, but she sounded happy to Meijeong, “Thank you. You’re very kind.”

“I like to look out for my friends,” Meijeong said, smiling. Mentally, she ran through her grocery list and wondered what else she might need to make a boxed lunch for Jaehee. 

“Thank you,” said Jaehee, “I guess… I will see you tomorrow then.”

“Yep! I look forward to it!”

“Me as well,” agreed Jaehee, “Well, goodbye Meijeong.”

“Bye!”

Meijeong was grinning the whole way through the grocery store. She finished getting all of her groceries, plus some extras that she thought Jaehee might like. There was a beautiful lunch box with flowers scrolled on the sides that Meijeong thought Jaehee might like, so she bought that as well. She debated whether or not she should get something for Jumin or Elizabeth the 3rd, but well… anything suitable for them was probably out of her budget.

Outside, the air was still uncharacteristically warm, but a strong wind was picking up. The wind was making her already unruly hair a bigger mess, and making her grin too. There was going to be a big late-fall thunderstorm tonight, no doubt about. Meijeong spun in the wind, swinging the grocery bags around her. A thunderstorm AND she would get to meet Jaehee, Jumin, and Elizabeth the 3rd tomorrow. She got back to the apartment building still giddy with excitement.

“Oh… that means…” Meijeong paused as she reached for the building entrance door, then burst out laughing, doubling over. A few passer bys actually stopped to stare as she cackled, wheezed, with laughter.

“Zen- haha- Zen is going to be- hahaha- so furious!” Meijeong laughed to herself. Eventually, she regained her composure enough to go inside and get up to the apartment, though stray giggles still escape in the elevator. Unless something changed, Zen would be the last one to meet her (or at least know what she looked like, like Seven did). Of course, the biggest assault on Zen’s ego would be that Jumin got to meet her before Zen did. Or worse, that the “furball” got to meet her first.

“Oops,” Meijeong burst out laughing again.

She had a mental debate over whether or not to tell Zen about it while she put groceries away and started a load of laundry. Of course, it would kind of be funny to wait until he just found out on his own, especially if it was after the fact, BUT she really didn’t want to cause any real fights about it, and that was always a possibility where Zen and Jumin were concerned.

When she logged in the chatroom after responding to emails and eating lunch, however; Zen had his own good news- a new musical role. Meijeong wasn’t sure who was more excited- him or Jaehee.

 

ZEN: Jaehee! Good to see you~ And you too, Meijeong!!

Jaehee Kang: Hello Zen.

MC: ZEN! How were rehearsals today?

ZEN: Fantastic!

ZEN: Jaehee… Meijeong…

ZEN:

ZEN: I got a new role!!

Jaehee Kang: Really?

Jaehee Kang: CONGRATULATIONS!!

Jaehee Kang: ~* ^u^ *~

ZEN: Thanks, Jaehee~

MC: OMG

MC: Congrats! I can’t wait to see it!!

ZEN: Thanks, Meijeong!

ZEN: I’m so excited now that

ZEN: I get to play a new character ^^

Jaehee Kang: You will be great.

ZEN: Haha, I’ll have to live up to your expectations!

ZEN: <3 ^_~

ZEN: The director wanted to see me in the morning,

ZEN: so I thought it might be about a new role. I put some effort into looking properly. Lolol

ZEN: I got there a bit early because I was so excited.

ZEN: but he was already waiting for me. Haha.

ZEN: He must have waited for a while… lol

ZEN: He’s so cute. Lolol

ZEN: ~* ^-^ *~

MC: This is so exciting

MC: I’m finally going to be able to see you live on stage!!

Jaehee Kang: You must have felt great.

ZEN: Of course. Lolol

ZEN: I knew it the moment I saw him! Lol

ZEN: As soon as I said hello,

ZEN: he put his arms around my shoulder

ZEN: and said,

ZEN: “Zen, isn’t it time you work on a new role…?”

ZEN: and then he added

ZEN: “You should let people see your face more often. It’d be a waste not to.” Lololol

Jaehee Kang: ~*He was absolutely right. He knows exactly what a director should be doing*~

MC: Yes! He’s a great director!

Jaehee Kang: ^^ He has a good eye.

Jaehee Kang: *O_O**~

ZEN: Hahahaha.

ZEN: But what’s really awesome is

 

ZEN posted an image of himself in a costume, a dramatic image of himself in costume with a black wig. Meijeong smiled. He looked amazing.

 

ZEN: TADA!!

Jaehee Kang: *O_O**~

MC: Improv dress rehearsal?? That’s so cool Zen!

ZEN: Right? He really put a lot of thought into it, haha.

ZEN: Brought the costumes and everything. Lololol

Jaehee Kang: Just looking at the photo reminds me of your singing and dancing.

Jaehee Kang: * ^_^ *~~

ZEN: I know.

ZEN: He was so cute. Lololol

ZEN: Oh right. Lolol

ZEN: So the director also said this.

Jaehee Kang: Go on.

ZEN: Something like that.

ZEN: ~* Even Zeus would kill to have your charm! *~

ZEN: Yeah it was this! L

MC: Lolol Zeus would be jealous of you!

MC: Though you’re more a god of beauty than a god of thunder, haha

Jaehee Kang: I agree with that one hundred percent ^^

Jaehee Kang: No one can be more charming than you are.

ZEN: Thanks, you two.

ZEN: ^^ haha

ZEN: ~* ^-^ *~

ZEN: To be honest, I loved greek mythology

MC: Me too!

ZEN: but I always wondered what was so charming about Zeus.

MC: I mean, Zeus wasn’t really charming at all

MC: He was kind of a horrible douche

ZEN: Yeah, I mean.

ZEN: don’t you think that I’m a million times more handsome than Zeus?

MC: I mean… that’s not what I was getting at lolol

ZEN: I’m sweet, have a good body, and have good looks.

ZEN: I actually did think that

ZEN: I could be the God of Beauty… or something like that lol

ZEN: Gah lololol Me, more handsome than Zeus? lololol

MC: I mean, you’re certainly a nicer guy than Zeus ever was.

MC: And he wasn’t even known to be that good looking amongst the Gods of Olympus

ZEN: I am a bit conceited, aren’t I? haha

Jaehee Kang: No one has actually seen what Zeus looks like, so you can say whatever you want.

Jaehee Kang: And also, if there is a God of Beauty, I think you’d be perfect for it.

MC: I think you’re missing my point of the whole Zeus thing guys

ZEN: Hahahahaha.

MC: But congratulations!

Jaehee Kang: Yes, Congratulations on getting the new role. Can I ask you the title of the new piece?

ZEN: Oh. I heard it’s based on a game.

ZEN: “Tendelion”?

ZEN: haha yeah! It’s Tendelion!

Jaehee Kang: Tendelion! I heard it was a game that almost gave many young girls heart attacks.

MC: Let’s go see it and have heart attacks together Jaehee!!

MC: lolol

Jaehee Kang: Yes ^^ I think that would be lovely

Jaehee Kang: * ^_^ *~~

ZEN: I’m really looking forward to it too.

ZEN: Apparently, m new character is this obsessive strong man.

ZEN: Meijeong, how would you feel if someone like me obsesses over you?

MC: You can’t have me that easily ^^

ZEN: That makes me more curious haha.

Jaehee Kang: I’m sorry, but I personally think that no one

Jaehee Kang: should imagine Zen being obsessed with them

MC: lol relax Jaehee, Zen’s joking

ZEN:

Jaehee Kang: … I meant for your health, of course

ZEN: But…

ZEN: to be honest,

ZEN: I’ve never been obsessed over a woman, lol

ZEN: So I’m wondering how I should prepare for this role.

MC: Hmmm…

MC: You should act like Jumin does towards Elizabeth the 3rd

Jaehee Kang: O_On??

ZEN: I did think something similar;;

ZEN: but I don’t want to get any kind of help from that dude;;

ZEN: But I guess if I take after how that jerk obsesses over his cat,

ZEN: It might help me with my character….

Jaehee Kang: You’re going to use Mr. Han as your reference material??

ZEN: The character description really reminded me of him.

Jaehee Kang: That’s not a bad idea.

Jaehee Kang: Everyone is amazed at how Mr. Han loves Elizabeth. I suppose you could call it an obsession.

MC: Yeah

MC: I’ve known a lot of animal lovers, but Jumin really does take it to a new level

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom

MC: Wow, nice timing Jumin

MC: How’s your trip going?

Jumin Han: Productively

Jumin Han: Thank you

Jumin Han: I hope you’re doing well, Meijeong?

ZEN: Are you just going to ignore the rest of us?

MC: I’m well, thanks :)

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang, are the arrangements for our meeting with Meijeong tomorrow set?

Jaehee Kang: I believe so

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong-

Jaehee Kang: Are you still willing to meet us to tomorrow to discuss watching Elizabeth the 3rd?

Jaehee Kang: I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I’ll be if it all works out.

MC: Yes, of course

MC: It shouldn’t be a problem for me to get to the C&R building after work

MC: I’m really looking forward to meeting you both ^^

Jumin Han: Yes, I’m quite looking forward to it as well.

ZEN: ??

ZEN: wait

ZEN: You… and Jumin… and Meijeong…

ZEN: YOU’RE ALL MEETING TOMORROW????

MC: ahha…

MC: Sorry Zen

ZEN: I can’t believe that jerk gets to meet you before me!

Jumin Han: Jealous??

Jumin Han: Technically, even Elizabeth the 3rd will meet Meijeong before you do.

ZEN: THE FURBALL!?!?

Jaehee Kang:

Jaehee Kang: It can’t be helped

ZEN: Ugh…

MC: Sorry Zen…

MC: But cheer up!

MC: But soon I’ll get to see your beautiful face on stage!!!

MC: I’m so excited about that!

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: That’s true, but…

ZEN:

Jumin Han: Elizabeth the 3rd also has a beautiful face

Jumin Han: Perhaps I should find a way to put her up on a stage as well

ZEN: AAGH!!

Jaehee Kang: It’s a business meeting, not a social one

Jaehee Kang: To determine if Meijeong can watch the cat when Mr. Han is traveling instead of me.

MC: Zen…

MC: Don’t let it bother you too much

MC: Just think that I’m saving the best for last if that helps ^^;;

ZEN: Well…

ZEN: <3 I suppose it would be overwhelming if you saw my perfect face first <3 <3

Jumin Han: You’re easily swayed

ZEN: >_>…

ZEN: Anyway, the director is calling, so I have to go

ZEN: Bye Meijeong, Jaehee!

Jaehee Kang: Goodbye, I look forward to seeing your new role

MC: Bye!

ZEN has left the chatroom.

 

After that, the conversation briefly turned to business itineraries before both Jaehee and Jumin had to leave. With so much to look forward to, the rest of the day flew by quickly for Meijeong. She took one last look outside before going back to the bedroom that night- the wind was certainly stronger, but nothing yet… Curled up in bed with a cup of tea, Meijeong checked the last few emails of the day, wondering if she had judged the forecast wrong.

 

 

KA-BOOM!

Meijeong woke up immediately as the loud thunderclap shook the room. The wind and rain pounded so hard against the apartment windows that she could even hear it from the windowless bedroom. She rolled over and checked the time on her phone- 2:38 AM. Smiling sleepily, she gathered up her pillow and some blankets and moved out to the living room, where the bright flashes of lightning could be seen through the window. Thunderstorms were Meijeong’s favorite kind of weather, and the late ones that sometimes appeared in the cool fall months were the most pleasant of all, at least in her opinion. She tossed the bedding on the couch and arranged the furniture so she’s have a good view of the window. Another thunderous boom shook the air. The living room was dark except the bursts of lightning, and it took Meijeong a moment to realize the power was out. No power meant her plans to make tea were busted, but she could still watch the storm. Rain pattered in an angry, erratic rhythm against the glass, harder or softer depending on the current direction of the wind. There was something so peaceful about the chaos of it all. She snuggled sleepily into the blankets on the couch as another thunderclap shook the room.

Then, suddenly, there was an unexpected noise.

Ring! Ring Ring! Ring!

Meijeong jumped. Her phone was ringing, which was strange given the time of night. Fumbling in surprise, Meijeong crawled out of the blankets and grabbed the phone off an end table. It was Seven. 

“Hey hey hey, Defender of Justice 707 here,” his voice rang out cheerfully, “I hope I didn’t wake you up.”

“Haha, no,” Meijeong smiled, “The storm did that.”

“That’s why I’m calling, actually,” said Seven, “I saw how bad the weather was, and I was worried you’d be afraid being alone in the apartment by yourself. So the Defender of Justice sprang into action.”

“Aw, thanks Seven,” Meijeong smiled, “But you don’t need to worry about me. I love thunderstorms.” Sitting back down on the couch, she pulled her knees to her chest and pulled the blanket around herself. She smiled and a low rumble of more distance thunder rolled through.

“Wow! Me too…” Seven chuckled, “We have a lot in common! Haha!”

“I could never understand why people are afraid of them… Maybe I’m just weird, but thunderstorms make feel safe.” Meijeong mused, half-talking to Seven and half to herself. 

“Nothing wrong with being weird,” Seven replied.

“I feel like they take me away to somewhere else, some place completely different, and peaceful,” Meijeong said, snuggling further into the blanket, watching a beautifully defined streak of lightning wind its way down the sky.

“Like another planet!” Seven exclaimed cheerfully, and Meijeong laughed. 

“There’s lightning on a few of them, right?” Meijeong laughed, “Like Venus and Jupiter or something. Although…” Another roll of thunder shook the room, interrupting her mid-thought. “A lightning storm in space would be breathtaking. Stars and nebulas and lightning…”

“Lightning across the Milky Way…” Seven said wistfully, “Oh… I shouldn’t picture that… It’s too much. I’ll stick with what already exists. That’s enough for me.”

“Yeah? This is a good storm just the way it is... Did you move to watch the lightning out of a window too?” asked Meijeong. She brushed her hair out of face, cradling the phone against her ear. A particularly bright flash of lightning almost blinded her, and she braced herself.

“Noooo, I wish but-

KABOOOMMMMMMM!!

The whole room shook, and Meijeong was delighted and grinning, “Did you hear that?”

“GAH,” Seven replied, “So jealous… my house is a kind of a fortress, so the storm is nowhere near that loud,” She could hear him pouting on the other end of the line, “And there’s no windows, either, so I can’t see it either.”

“Ugh, I could never live like that,” said Meijeong, “I need light and sunshine and air. I’d feel like a hibernating bear in a cave living like that and just… sleep. Constantly.”

“Maybe I would sleep all the time, if I wasn’t working so much,” groaned Seven, “But living like this is okay for someone like me.”

Meijeong shifted the blankets, moving them up around her head to cuddle into them more completely and frowned, “What do you mean? Someone like you? Even hackers need to go outside occasionally.”

“Nah, I don’t really do much outside,” Seven said, “Hackers are mysterious beings-“

“Like cats, don’t ask questions about either,” Meijeong laughed, “So I’ve heard meow.”

“Right meow,” Seven said, “We’re both very dangerous creatures.”

Meijeong laughed and then mused out loud, teasing him, “Such a contradiction. Is the mysterious Agent 707 a Dangerous Hacker or a Defender of Justice?”

“Ahahahahaha,” Seven laughed, but Meijeong thought he sounded awkward, “You know, I’m not entirely sure myself… uuhhhhh…" 

“Well, either way,” she said, feeling bad that he seemed uncomfortable now, “If you ever want to watch a thunderstorm with me someplace with a better view, let me know.”

“Haha, but I have to work! I get all energized during storms…” said Seven, but his voice trailed off, “I don’t really feeling like getting back to work just now though…”

“Good,” Meijeong said cheerfully and smiled, “I like watching a thunderstorm with you, even if it’s only over the phone.”

“Ahhhh… yeah… Me too.” There was a long pause, then Seven continued, “Besides, I can see it through the CCTV in the apartment, so it’s almost like I’m there watching with you.”

Meijeong sat up straight. “Wait, what!? You have cameras in here!?”

“Uh… no,” Seven mumbled guiltily, “Not really. GAH. I mean, there are CCTV’s for security in the living room and the hallways but I don’t look at them unless there was an emergency situation and…”

Sighing, Meijeong cut him off, “You know what, I’ll yell at you about it tomorrow,” she rolled her eyes, “Let’s just go back to having a moment.”

“A- a moment?” Seven’s voice was a different sort of shaky then, “I- uh, yeah. My head feels funny. Must… be the electricity in the air affecting my brain.”

Meijeong laughed softly, smiling to herself. “Maybe. There’s a lot of lightning tonight.” A loud crash of thunder nearly deafened her, proving the point. “It’s lovely though,” she said as the noise faded away again, giving way to the sound of pounding rain. “Sharing it with someone just makes it better.”

“Thanks,” said Seven, and she didn’t need him to explain it. There were a few long, rumbling rolls of thunder then, making it hard to hear, so they just didn’t speak. The rain was still pattering hard on the window, but the wind seemed to be dying down some. At least, there wasn’t those powerful gusts slamming the building as frequently. Neither of them spoke; it wasn’t an awkward silence but a peaceful one. Meijeong watched the lightning and leaned her head back against the couch, resting. 

“I should get back to work,” Seven said after a while, “I shouldn’t have put it off this long, but I wanted to check on you.”

“No, don’t goooOOOAAAAOOoooo” The word turned into a drawn out yawn without her meaning for it to. “We have to think-” Another yawn, “-Of a new way to mess with Yoosung. And I have to yell at youOOOAAAAAhhhh.” A final yawn, and she could hear Seven laughing at her on the other end of the phone.

“Alright! Sleep now, cute kitties of the world, and he great God Seven will come up with an ingenious plan to mess with Yoosung for tomorrow!”

Meijeong smiled sleepily and lay down on the couch. There were still flashes of lightning, but the time between them and the thunder was much longer, and the raindrops were smaller than before.

“Night, Seven,” Meijeong murmured, “Thanks for checking on me.”

“Yep! Goodnight!” 

Setting down her phone, Meijeong squished herself into a more horizontal position on the couch, on her side so she could still watch the last lingering bits of the storm out the window. It was a wonderful way to fall asleep.

The following day there were leaves and even small branches on the ground as Meijeong went to work. The air had gotten much cooler and she absentmindedly wished she had worn a scarf. But instead of thinking about dressing warm enough for the walk to work, Meijeong had spent most of the morning trying to decide what on earth she should wear to meet Jumin and Jaehee later that evening. Should she dress formally? Her normal attire? Both Jumin and Jaehee were ridiculously unhelpful on the subject when she asked. Jumin insisted that as long as whatever she wore was “inoffensive” that would be adequate. Meijeong had no idea what that meant. Of course, Jaehee had been so busy that all she said was that Meijeong “shouldn’t feel the need to dress formally.” Neither piece of advice put her mind at ease in the slightest. Eventually, Meijeong just gave up and laid a few options out on the bed to decide on after work.

Work, meanwhile, seemed to drag on forever that day. Even though the customers and orders were steady, Meijeong spent her time counting the minutes until she could leave. It didn’t help that Sun-mi was grouchy after sleeping badly the night before- she was one of those people who was terrified of thunderstorms. On the positive side, it meant that Sun-mi was too tired to notice how fidgety Meijeong was, and therefore didn’t pester Meijeong with questions about why. The clock seemed like it was moving in slow motion, the second hand dragging each stroke into a full minute, but eventually, the workday was over. Meijeong practically sprinted home to change, and after another frustratingly, impossibly long wait on a bus, she stood outside of the offices of C&R International.

Chapter Text

The shining glass façade of the skyscraper that housed C&R International was towering and impressive. Meijeong took a deep breath, wondering for a moment if perhaps she should have dressed more formally after all. The dress she had eventually decided on was nice but it certainly wasn’t formal. 

“Curse you both for being unhelpful,” Meijeong muttered under breath, fussing with the skirt so that it lay possibly more neatly over the leggings. She was probably over thinking this but still. She took another deep breath and walked through the door.

The inside of the building was equally grand and intimidating, full of important looking businessmen with important looking documents and important looking suitcases scurrying past in every direction. Even though it was late in the evening, there were still so many people there. Thankfully, the building’s receptionist was set up right near the door- this was not a place Meijeong would want to have to wander around looking for help in. 

“I’m here to see Chief Assistant Jaehee Kang,” Meijeong said, faking confidence and trying to feign the appropriate amount of formality for the location, “I have an appointment.”

“Your name?” the receptionist asked, peering over the top of her glasses.

“Meijeong Chen.”

The receptionist nodded and picked up a phone, calling up to whatever office Jaehee and Jumin were in. Probably somewhere near the top, based on Jumin’s importance to the company. After a moment, Meijeong was informed that Jaehee would be with her momentarily. While she waited, Meijeong looked around some more.


Now that she had gotten over her initial shock at the grandiosity of the building, Meijeong realized it was actually quite elegant. Every detail, from the angles of the panes of glass to the live plants artistically arranged through the open spaces was carefully planned to convey both function and form. Meijeong personally wouldn’t want to live or work in a place like this, but she could certainly see the appeal that it could have to others. There was even the sound of running water somewhere near by, like maybe a fountain or a fish pond, and Meijeong would have been tempted to find it if she had the time and wasn’t here on… well, business sounded to formal, but that’s what it was, really.

After a minute or two passed, she saw Jaehee walking her way. It was easy to tell it was her. Jaehee looked exactly the same as she looked in every photo Meijeong had seen in the RFA app. Suit, glasses, short hair, all perfectly neat and tidy. Jaehee had no trouble picking Meijeong out either- while Meijeong’s outfit wasn’t offensive, it certainly stood out in the sea of suits and ties.

“Meijeong Chen?” Jaehee said briskly, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you." 

“Jaehee!” Meijeong smiled, shaking Jaehee’s outstretched hand, unable to keep a little bounce out of her step, “I’m so excited to meet you! And Jumin too, obviously.”

“Yes… well,” Jaehee smiled too, but it was much more reserved, just barely peaking out of her stoic expression, “Mr. Han decided to work from home today, to make sure Elizabeth was properly prepared for your visit…”

“Oh geez,” Meijeong said, sighing, “Sorry Jaehee.”

“It’s fine, I’m used to it,” Jaehee replied automatically, without thinking, which Meijeong thought was a bit sad. “There’s a car waiting to take us there now, I had the receptionist call it when you arrived.” Jaehee gestured to the front door and they began walking.

“Still, I was hoping to give you less work,” Meijeong said, looking at the large stack of paperwork Jaehee carried with one hand, which was probably for Jumin, “And I’m sure Jumin not being here today meant just the opposite for you… 

“Thank you,” Jaehee’s smile was a little brighter now, “You’re very kind. And besides, if one day of extra work means that I never have to watch Elizabeth again, it will be well worth it.”

“I hope so,” Meijeong said. A large car, more limo than car really, was waiting for them on the curb, and Meijeong’s eyes grew wide. “Oh, wow.” 

“One of the smaller cars, really,” Jaehee said, “It took a little while for me to get used to as well.”

“I’ve really only seen a car this nice at a funeral,” said Meijeong. The driver held the door open for them, and Meijeong slid in behind Jaehee.

“Oh… well, yes,” replied Jaehee, “I suppose that would make sense.”

“Sorry,” Meijeong laughed, “That was morbid.” There was a long awkward silence as the car started to move. Thankfully, Jaehee eventually started talking.

“It’s not far to Mr. Han’s penthouse from here,” she said, “More of a commute than some, but he preferred the location.”

“That’s good,” Meijeong said, then changed the subject away from work before another awkward silence could start, “When do you think Zen’s show dates will be announced.”

Jaehee’s mood was instantly brighter. “It’s difficult to say for a production this scale,” she said thoughtfully, tapping her finger to her lips, “Normally, the performers know by the time of auditions, but because it’s such a unique adaptation, there might be differences in scheduling.”

“Oh, okay,” Meijeong said, “Well, I hope we know soon. We’ll have to make sure we both have time off to go see it.”

“Yes,” replied Jaehee, finally smiling for real now. She was really quite pretty when her face lit up. “On opening night, if possible. Of course, Zen will perform his best on every night, but there’s just something about opening nights that makes it all more special. 

The two of them gushed over Zen for a while, and Meijeong was grateful that Jaehee seemed to have realized that Meijeong wasn’t interested in him romantically. Traffic was light now that it was the evening and they made it to Jumin’s place very quickly. The building exterior was almost as impressive as C&R’s, really the only major difference was scale. The interior was certainly nicer, though maybe it was simply the absence of swarming businessmen in suits. Meijeong looked around at all the splendor while Jaehee spoke briefly with a security guard. There was restaurant, a café, and flowering plants arranged around a koi pond. Even though she and Jaehee were still talking about Zen and theater shows, Meijeong found herself wondering if the sparkling fountain they passed on the way to the elevator was covered in real gold.

Jumin opened his door almost immediately; presumably the security guards had informed him that they had arrived. He was taller than Meijeong had pictured him, and his smile was warmer than his demeanor in the chat room had let on.

“Assistant Kang,” he nodded to acknowledge Jaehee before turning his full attention to Meijeong. “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Meijeong.”

“It’s nice to meet you too,” Meijeong said cheerfully, allowing herself to be ushered in the door, “I’m glad we didn’t have to wait until a party was held.”

“Yes, that would have been frustrating,” replied Jumin. The inside of his apartment was just as luxurious as the rest of the building, though much more modern in design than the rest of the building. Lots of black and white and a column aquarium.

“Your home is lovely,” said Meijeong politely.

“Thank you,” said Jumin off-hand, as though he had heard compliments like that his entire life. He probably had. “I shall go find Elizabeth the 3rd,” Jumin said, “She seems to have gone back to another room.”

“No need, she’ll come out to see me when she’s ready,” said Meijeong, “One of the worst things you can do with cats that you want to like you is force them into a situation. I’d rather she came to see me on her own terms.”

“Oh,” said Jumin. His eyes widened a bit and he tilted his head to the side, betraying a hint of surprise and intrigue. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Clearly, Meijeong would be a much more suitable person to watch Elizabeth than me,” Jaehee said pointedly.

“That still remains to be seen,” said Jumin, but there was a sly sort of smile on his face that made Meijeong giggle. He was immediately startled.

“Sorry, I’m not laughing at you,” Meijeong said, smiling, “It’s just nice to put facial expressions to your words. Besides the little emojis, I mean.”

“Oh,” said Jumin, and to Meijeong shock, he almost seemed a little embarrassed. “Yes, it is pleasant to now be able picture your face properly. You have a lovely face.”

Now Meijeong was the one who was embarrassed. “Oh, thank you,” she said, feeling flushed, “I just hope I’m able to help you and Jaehee.”

“I agree,” said Jaehee, “I-“ Jaehee was suddenly interrupted by her ringing phone. “It’s the office, I have to take this. Excuse me.”

“Would you like some tea?” asked Jumin as Jaehee hurried away, “Feel free to sit down as well.”

“Yes, thank you,” Meijeong replied. Looking at the expensive furniture around the room, she eventually decided on the couch. It would be the easiest place for Elizabeth to approach. She tucked her skirt down and sat on what she imagined was probably wildly expensive leather. Out of the corner of her eye, Meijeong saw Elizabeth the 3rd slink out of the hallway and head her way. She purposefully didn’t stare at the cat, not wanting to seem threatening, but Meijeong needn’t have bothered. Elizabeth minced over, and, with a graceful bound of flowing fur, landed on the couch next to delicately. In true spoiled-sweet cat fashion, Elizabeth began to rub against Meijeong outstretched hand to demand attention.

“Ah, there she is,” said Jumin, returning with the tea. After setting the tea cups (actual, ornate, delicate tea cups, not just plain mugs Meijeong noticed) down on the coffee table, he sat in the chair opposite Meijeong and watched her interactions with the cat, clearly pleased. “She likes you.”

“I’m glad,” Meijeong replied, her whole attention focused on the soft, purring cloud that had now made it’s home on her lap, “She’s the most beautiful cat I’ve ever seen.”

“Yes, she is a magnificent specimen of a cat.”

Had Meijeong been paying attention, she would have been surprised at the positively tender look on Jumin’s face. Instead, she wove her fingers through Elizabeth’s fur, trying to see which spots the cat liked being petted the most.

“Mr. Han,” Jaehee interrupted, “That was from one of the project managers. There’s an issue… it needs to be handled in person.”

“Alright. You can go, Assistant Kang,” Jumin replied curtly, waving her away, “I’ll have Driver Kim take Meijeong home when we’re done here.”

“It was so nice to finally meet you, Jaehee,” Meijeong said, “I would stand up and say goodbye properly, but I have a lap full of cat.”

“It’s fine,” said Jaehee, smiling, “I’m just pleased to see that Elizabeth seems to like you a lot.”

“Yes, that is a good thing,” said Jumin, “Goodnight, Assistant Kang.” There was no mistaking the blunt dismissal in his voice. Meijeong thought it was strange. While Jaehee and Jumin certainly weren’t friends, there did seem an excessive amount of coldness on Jumin’s part. Before Meijeong could comment, Elizabeth rolling over and stretching adorably distracted her.

“I think, based on just what I’ve seen here, you’d be an excellent choice to watch Elizabeth the 3rd,” said Jumin, “The only problem is the situation with Rika’s apartment. Obviously, I cannot allow Elizabeth the 3rd to disappear to a classified location.”

“Yes, I agree,” Meijeong said, “But I don’t know if you’d be comfortable with me coming here to watch her. I am still practically a stranger, after all.” 

“Not at all,” said Jumin, “I think that would be the ideal solution, if you’re comfortable with it.”

“I think that’ll be alright,” Meijeong replied, smiling peacefully as Elizabeth purred, “I can’t do more than two days a week though, or it’ll start interfering with my job.”

“I can pay you for your time, of course. Quite generously,” said Jumin matter-of-factly. “If things go well, you could have a contract and a full-time position as Elizabeth the 3rd’s guardian. Regardless we’ll work up a contract that’s beneficial to both of us.”

“It’s not about the money,” Meijeong looked up from Elizabeth to explain to Jumin directly. She smiled. “Mr. Park has been extremely kind and supportive of me, and he relies on me to help. I wouldn’t ever want to put him in a position where he couldn’t count me, even if it means I’m not getting paid as much money.”

“So you feel a strong sense of loyalty to him,” Jumin look intrigued and fiddled with one of his cufflinks thoughtfully, “Interesting.”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s only natural.”

“Even to the point of possibly turning down other, more beneficial positions?” said Jumin, his eyebrows raised incredulously, “It doesn’t seem like a very logical business arrangement if it has to rely on emotional attachments rather than signed contracts.”

“Maybe not. But a logical business decision would have been not to hire me at all, back at that time.” Meijeong replied. She tucked a piece of loose hair behind her ear, and spoke almost as matter-of-factly as Jumin. “Sometimes kindness and empathy are more effective than money.”

“I see,” said Jumin. He took a sip of his tea, and his expression was such that Meijeong found herself wondering what he was thinking. Feeling bold, she continued.

“You should remember than with Jaehee,” Meijeong said, “There are a lot of new studies that show that many people work more effectively when they’re happier at work.”

“Assistant Kang doesn’t seem to be effected by emotions. It’s one of the reasons she is a valuable employee. However…” he paused, “I will look into these studies and take them into consideration.” Jumin watched Meijeong closely as she sat stroking Elizabeth the 3rd. His gaze was so intense that Meijeong might normally have been uncomfortable, but Elizabeth gentle purring made it easier to relax. The long white cat hair really was luxuriously soft, and didn’t seem to be shedding nearly as much as Jaehee’s complaints would imply, though Meijeong supposed it was a matter of perspective. A cat as relaxed and well cared for as Elizabeth had nothing on the shedding powers of stressed shelter cat. Suddenly, as cats often do, Elizabeth hopped up and went to a small fountain in the corner to get a drink.

“Does she like the fish tank?” Meijeong asked. She picked up her tea and walked over get a closer look at the tall column aquarium.

“I believe so,” said Jumin, “That’s why I had it installed.”

“It’s lovely,” Meijeong said, “Relaxing.”

“I agree,” Jumin replied, following her over, “I like having little touches of nature around me. I think it’s an important for good health.”

“Mhmm,” Meijeong said, bending down to look at the coral, “I grew up outside of the city. I miss that sometimes. There aren’t enough trees here.”

“I have a small private garden nearby,” said Jumin, “You’re welcome to visit whenever you feel the urge.”

Meijeong stood up and brushed the lose hair off the front of her dress. The solid purple color showed ever strand, but really, it wasn’t as bad as it could be.

“Thank you so much Jumin,” Meijeong smiled, brushing back that same stubborn loose hair and looking up to meet his eyes. Meijeong never thought of herself as short, but Jumin really was tall. “How about that be our deal? Whenever I watch Elizabeth the 3rd for you, I get to go visit your garden afterwards.”

“I’m not sure that’s a fair arrangement. Since I offered to let you go simply for being a nature lover and a member of the RFA,” Jumin said, but he was smiling, “But if that’s what you want, I think I can accept it.”

“Can I plant something there? Flowers, or something?”

“Of course,” said Jumin. His expression was enigmatic but still cheerful, “There are roses there already, and I bring one home for Elizabeth every time I visit. But I’ll introduce you to the gardeners there and see if they can find a place for you to use for your own.”

“Okay,” said Meijeong, grinning. She extended her hand. “Do we have a deal?”

Jumin laughed, taking her so much by surprise that she actually took her hand back. It wasn’t something the seemed possible. Jumin noticed her looking at him strangely.

“I’m glad we’ve met,” said Jumin. He cocked his head to the side, staring at her, “You’re a very fascinating person, Meijeong.” His gaze softened and he extended his hand to meet hers, and shook it firmly, smiling.

Elizabeth the 3rd returned and began to rub herself around Jumin’s legs, so he released Meijeong’s hand and scooped the purring cat into his arms obediently. Meijeong smiled.

“I’m glad we met too, Jumin,” Meijeong said, “And I’m very glad to have met you, Elizabeth.” She scratched the sweet spot between Elizabeth’s ears gently, “I should really get going though.”

“So soon?” said Jumin, and Meijeong was surprised by how disappointed he looked when she met his gaze.

“I have work tomorrow,” said Meijeong, smiling cheerfully, “But I appreciate the warm welcome from both of you.”

“I’ll call Driver Kim and have security escort you out,” Jumin said, allowing Elizabeth to leap daintily out of his arms before going to grab a phone.

“No, please, you’ve done enough already,” Meijeong said, shaking her head and grinning, “Besides, if I catch a cab, I don’t have to worry about revealing the location of the apartment.”

“I’ll have one called for you then,” said Jumin beginning to dial.

“Alright… Thanks Jumin,” Meijeong said.

“While we wait, I’ll introduce you to the building’s security head,” said Jumin. He made another phone call, and after a few moments of casual conversation, there was a knock at the door.

Meijeong was introduced to the security head; who was very formal and referred to her as “Miss Chen” regardless of her insistence that just Meijeong was fine. Jumin explained the pet-sitting situation to Mr. Lee and instructed him to inform the guards of her appearance and such. More than all the splendor around her, the stiffness and formality of security protocols and business procedures were what Meijeong feel out of place. And it bothered her how quick Jumin had been to dismiss Jaehee. Meijeong would have liked to spent more time talking to both of them, but it was clear now that their relationship was just as stiff and purely business-focused as it appeared in the chatroom. At least she got to gush about Zen's shows with Jaehee on the ride over.

Eventually the cab Jumin had called arrived, and Meijeong had to leave. As she rode home, she opened the RFA app to see what everyone else was up to. Unfortunately, no one was on at the moment, so she just read through a few emails and did some research on other potential party guests.

The apartment building was fairly quiet when Meijeong got home- not that she ran into her neighbors often. There was a young couple a few doors down that she saw occasionally, and a balding middle aged man that she seemed to always pass on her way in or out… a few kids that she had seen hanging around outside the building and watched being scolded by their parents when they splashed in rain puddles. No one she knew by name, anyway. The apartments directly to either side of hers didn’t seem to be occupied, and Meijeong had a sneaking suspicion that maybe the RFA owned them too and kept them empty as an extra privacy measure, which seemed excessive to her.

As she got off the elevator, Meijeong noticed something out of the corner of her eye… the blinking red light of a security camera. Suddenly, a memory from the other night came rushing back.

“Goddamnit Seven!” she cursed and then flinched, realizing how loud she had shouted it.

Meijeong paid close attention as she walked down the halls, spotting two more before getting to the apartment door. Once she was in the apartment though, Meijeong couldn’t find any cameras. She wondered if they were hidden, or if Seven had just been messing with her. The phone went straight to voicemail when she called, though, and Meijeong sighed, running a hand through her hair. She had been in the apartment for almost two months now, at this point there wasn’t much point to worrying about it too much. Still, she was a little more wary changing into her pajamas than she normally would have been.

Zen, Yoosung, and Jaehee were all in the messenger when Meijeong checked in again.

 

ZEN: Ugh

ZEN: I was checking some websites during a rehearsal break

ZEN: and

Zen posted a screenshot of article “This Year’s Most Eligible Bachelors in the Nation: Jumin Han” reads the headline.

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han has made that list every year consistently since he turned 21

Yoosung*: Oh yeah

Yoosung*: lololol

MC: huh

MC: at least he’s consistent?

ZEN: jerks like him make the list just because they have money

Jaehee Kang: It does help that he knows how to use his charms when needed

ZEN: charms??

ZEN:

ZEN: I mean… Jumin’s not unattractive

Yoosung*: lol

Yoosung*: Zen’s jealous

ZEN:

ZEN: No

ZEN: It’s just ridiculous how being rich can make up for being a cold-hearted rock

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: Ordinary guys like us don’t stand a chance against like rich elites like Jumin

ZEN: Well

ZEN: My looks aren’t ordinary

ZEN: They’re more like

Jaehee Kang: Divine perfection

ZEN: Right

ZEN: And also

ZEN: I’m charming

ZEN: and I work out

ZEN: and I’m respectful to women

Yoosung*: -_-

ZEN: But having money means Jumin ends up on lists like that without even trying

MC: I mean…

MC: Is being on that list so much really a good thing?

MC: Doesn’t the fact that he makes the “eligible bachelor” list for that many years in a row

MC: mean he hasn’t been a meaningful relationship in all those years?

Jaehee Kang: O_O …!?

Yoosung*: lololol

ZEN: lol

ZEN: Meijeong’s right

Yoosung*: If Jumin makes that list every year

Yoosung*: Then that makes him a forever-alone

Yoosung*: lolol

Jaehee Kang: just like the rest of us

Yoosung*: GAH

ZEN:

ZEN: that’s depressing

MC: It’s so weird to me that none of you can find dates

MC: I mean

MC: You’re all kind, attractive people

Yoosung*: //^u^//

Yoosung*: You think I’m attractive?

MC: I mean;;

MC: in your own way, yeah

MC: you’re cute ^^

ZEN: lolololol

ZEN: Meijeong’s just being nice lol

Jaehee Kang: I have no time

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han has no interest in dating

Jaehee Kang: Yoosung is a hopeless gaming addict

Yoosung*: hey! ><

Jaehee Kang: As for Zen

Jaehee Kang: Romantic relationships could be toxic for his career

Jaehee Kang: and should be avoided until he’s more established

MC: ouch

ZEN: I don’t know

ZEN: I want to be in a relationship

ZEN: so much

ZEN: but I’m so focused on rehearsals

ZEN: that I wouldn’t be able to give my girlfriend the attention she deserved

Jaehee Kang: That’s probably for the best at this point in your career anyway

Yoosung*: You’re too harsh Jaehee

Yoosung*: Zen should be able to date if he wants

MC: I agree

MC: As long as he can balance private and public life, there’s no reason Zen can’t date

Yoosung*: and I just joined that new club to show how devoted I’ll be to my future girlfriend

Yoosung*: OH

Yoosung*: My guild members just messaged me

Yoosung*: There’s a surprise event going on

Yoosung*: I have to go!

Yoosung* has left the chatroom

MC: lololol

ZEN: lol

MC: He’s not helping his case any ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: Exactly ;;

ZEN: Meijeong, have you ever had a boyfriend?

MC: I mean

MC: I’ve dated ^^;

MC: but there’s never been anyone I was really serious about

ZEN: I see

ZEN: I know what you mean

ZEN: Ugh

ZEN: I really want a girlfriend

ZEN: just having someone to support you like that

ZEN: would be amazing

Jaehee Kang: perhaps

Jaehee Kang: but it may cause more problems than it’s worth

MC: But if Zen finds someone he likes

MC: someone he might end up in loving relationship with

MC: Isn’t that worth the risk?

ZEN: Yeah!

ZEN: Exactly

Jaehee Kang: Emotions come and go so quickly

Jaehee Kang: It would be better

Jaehee Kang: to hold off on feeling such things until your career is more established

ZEN: If you think that it’s that easy to hold back emotions

ZEN: Than maybe

ZEN: Jaehee

ZEN: You’ve never been in love?

Jaehee Kang: O.O !!

MC: oh

MC: well…

Jaehee Kang: That’s…

ZEN: Oh!

ZEN: The director’s calling

ZEN: I have to go!

ZEN has left the chatroom

MC: Wow logged out fast as lightning

MC: I wonder if it’s about the show dates…

Jaehee Kang: I do not really understand what made you say that, but as someone who’s had a considerable amount of life experiences, I cannot say that I have never been in a relationship and I am not an innocent girl who has no experience whatsoever.

MC:

MC: That’s a long sentence

Jaehee Kang: Oh

Jaehee Kang: This is embarrassing

Jaehee Kang: …

Jaehee Kang: Delete

Jaehee Kang: How do you delete a comment?

MC: Do we have that feature…?

Jaehee Kang: No

Jaehee Kang: Luciel, when you see this

Jaehee Kang: Please add a delete feature to the chatroom

It took a while for Meijeong to calm Jaehee down after that, even a few private messages. Meijeong didn’t think she said anything particularly embarrassing, but Jaehee was not convinced.

That night, Meijeong actually looked up the article Zen had mentioned. It was the usual celebrity trash nonsense. Meijeong was (slightly) more interested in the several articles that were about Jumin’s father, if only because it made her worry about Jumin. Apparently, Mr. Chairman’s relationship with Glam Choi was progressing to the point where divorce was actually likely, or at least more like than it had been when Jumin had first mentioned the actress a few weeks ago. It had moved from tabloid trash news to actual news sites, anyway. Hopefully, Jumin and Jaehee weren’t going to suffer because of it.

The next day was an inventory day at work. There was barely a spare moment for Meijeong to catch her breath, let alone check the messenger. After sorting and counting every book in the store, included quite a few that were stored in dusty boxes in the back of rooms that may not have been opened in years, Meijeong was exhausted. After a long soak in the bath back at the apartment, she logged in the chat room. Jaehee and Seven were already there.

MC entered the chatroom.

707: Yo…

707: Is anyone here?

MC: I’m here ^^

707: Yay! It’s you.

Jaehee Kang: I am also here.

707: You both, plz listen to me.

707: //;;

707: I was trapped inside all day and had to work T_T

MC: Ugh, me too

MC: Well, not trapped, but it was a REALLY long day

MC: My coworker messed up the inventory list and we had to start from scratch right when we were almost finished

707: T_T

707: We both suffered today ;;

707: But at least you weren’t locked into a cold

707: dark

707: room

707: with no contact to the outside world;;

MC: T_T

MC: Why were you locked in a room?

707: it’s difficult to say…

Jaehee Kang: I feel like it’s better not to know.

707: Ya. Ur right.

707: The day I reveal top secret information, I might be gone from this world before I know it.

707: It’s a place I’m working part time as a freelancer

707: and they just lock people in for security reasons…

707: So if I reveal classified information, they’ll probably torture me in the basement…

MC: 0_0;;

MC: Oh no :(

707: omg

707: T_T …

707: Ya…

707: I’m a dangerous person so be careful lolol

Jaehee Kang: Do not doing anything dangerous.

MC: Make sure you take care of yourself, Seven.

MC: I would be really sad if something bad happened to you.

707: Yeah… Thank you.

707: It’s been a while since I’ve heard something like that.

MC: ^^

707: Someone’s worrying for me. So touching!

MC: Of course!

Jaehee Kang: Since your pranks are a bit too much

Jaehee Kang: and you have slow wits at times

MC: Slow wits? Seven??

Jaehee Kang: not everyone expresses their worries for you…

Jaehee Kang: Since you seem like a person who takes care of dangerous things without a problem.

MC: Well yeah but…

MC: A lot of times the more positive a person is, the more they’re struggling with and the more sensitive they are underneath it all?

707: Oh!

707: STRUGGLE?

707: ~_~ ??

707: is that so!?

707: I am sensitive person… A creature with a clean innocent heart like a gentle lamb.

707: +_+

Jaehee Kang: I cannot help but sigh.

The conversation turned to Jaehee’s request to delete messenger comments. She was clearly still feeling very uncomfortable about her “not an innocent girl” speech from earlier. Meijeong expected Seven to tease her relentlessly, but his tone turned uncharacteristically serious.

707: Hmm…

707: Jaehee.

707: You like Zen, right?

Jaehee Kang: It’s not that I do not like him, but do not take it the wrong way.

707: Then it’s best not to say anything vague like that.

707: Liking someone is selfish.

707: It clouds your mind and makes you do and say things you normally wouldn’t.

MC: ??

MC: Wow

707: But the better you control that, the more control you have over relationships.

707: You can prevent any potential problems and have the upper hand in the relationship.

MC: Relationships aren’t about control though

MC: That’s such a sad way to look at life Seven ;;

707: Although loneliness will follow you always. (u x You o)

Jaehee Kang: ….???

MC: Is that how you’ve lived your life, Seven?

707: lololol I don’t know.

707: I don’t really understand what this means.

707: It says so…

707: … in the book called ‘Expert Playboy’.

707: lololol

MC: lol Seven

MC: ^^;;

MC: That’s not good research material

707: lololololololololololol

Jaehee Kang: Right…

Jaehee Kang: I’m going to bed…

MC: Goodnight Jaehee

MC: get some rest :)

707: Dream about delete features~!

Jaehee Kang: -_-

Jaehee Kang: Goodnight Meijeong

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

MC: OH

MC: right

MC: Seven…

707: ya?

MC: about those security cameras

MC: where are they?

707:

707: everywhere

707:

707: nowhere

MC: ~Seveeennn…

707: ^^;;

MC: Luciel Seven-Zero-Seven Choi

MC: tell me the truth

707: T_T

707: just the hallway

 

707: Nothing else ^^

MC: lol

MC: I feel better now

MC: thx thx

707: UR

707: WELCOME

707: I really haven’t been spying on you or anything T_T

707: It’s just

707: for safety

MC: I’m sure a Defender of Justice would never abuse their power?

707:

707: oh

707: Of course not!!

707: ^u^*

707: lololololol

MC: lol you were more convincing a second ago

707: T_T

707: you can trust me ^3^

MC: good ^^

MC: I have to sleep

MC: I’m exhausted ;;

707: Me too ;;

707: but I still have a lot of work to do;;

MC: :(

MC: hang in there Seven

707: I will!

707: Seven

707: Zero

707: Seven

707: will protect the world!

707: lololololol

MC: lololol goodnight

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

Chapter Text

One thing that Meijeong was starting to notice was just how eccentric a lot of the people and groups she was emailing for the RFA were. It made things challenging, at first, but now that she had really gotten in to the swing of things, it wasn’t so bad. After all, she got along better with Seven then any other member of the RFA, and it really didn’t get more eccentric than him.

Of course, the all caps loving representative from Tiaronal company had been testing that theory. Meijeong sighed, leaning back against Jumin’s couch and scratching Elizabeth the 3rd’s chin. It would make her job a little easier if they had a date for the party, but V was apparently travelling and hadn’t gotten back to them about that yet. Yoosung had called her to complain earlier. 

“We’re supposed to just blindly trust him, and no one else seemed to be worried at all,” said Yoosung, “But it’s been over 2 months since you got here and we still don’t have a date for the party.”

“I know,” Meijeong replied, standing up to get tea and forcing Elizabeth to hop off of her lap, “But getting upset about it isn’t going to change anything. It’s just going to stress you out even more.”

“Yeah… you’re right,” Yoosung sighed. Meijeong could hear the sounds of a keyboard faintly through the phone.

“Are you playing LOLOL while you’re talking to me?” she teased.

“Haha, yeah,” said Yoosung, “Sorry.”

“I don’t mind,” Meijeong laughed, pouring the hot water into a very fancy looking teapot that Jumin insisted she use when she stayed to watch Elizabeth. The tea leaves were also exotic and expensive, but Meijeong loved the floral scent and light taste too much to complain about Jumin getting them for her. Besides, she had already watched Elizabeth for him twice with no reimbursement other than a visit to his private garden.

“I just… it’s the only thing that takes my mind off of V and the party,” Yoosung sighed, “So I can’t help but play all the time.”

“As long as you’re still going to your classes and eating alright,” Meijeong said.

“Ahahaha,” Yoosung’s nervous laughter was not terribly reassuring on that matter, and Meijeong sighed. Hearing a lecture about to start, Yoosung quickly changed the subject, “So how is it staying at Jumin’s penthouse? It’s got to be super fancy.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong said, “I still feel nervous about touching some of things in here. But Elizabeth goes around playing with anything she wants, regardless of how expensive it looks, so she’s been helping me feel less nervous.”

That made Yoosung laugh. “She really is the world’s most spoiled cat.”

“Yeah, but she’s very happy,” Meijeong said, pouring a cup of tea and returning to the couch. Elizabeth darted between her legs as she walked, not quite close enough to cause her to trip or fall.

“I bet,” said Yoosung, “Oh, there’s a big campaign about to start… thanks for talking to me.”

“Of course,” Meijeong smiled. “See you later Yoosung!”

“Yup! Bye!”

Meijeong sighed again remembering the conversation, cradling the teacup between her hands, leaning forward in the couch. Elizabeth seemed to sense Meijeong’s worry and hopped onto the couch next to her. The silky white cat rubbed herself all over Meijeong’s arm, forcing her way onto the lap before curling up and purring. 

“I am worried though,” Meijeong said, taking a sip of tea with one hand and petting Elizabeth with the other. “But it’s not like I can say anything. I’m new. I can’t go questioning V when I don’t know anything about all of this. It’s just that… ” Meijeong groaned. “I dunno, kitty. Maybe I’m making things more complicated in my head than they actually are. It just seems like maybe V needs more help with everything than he’s letting on.”

Elizabeth the 3rd simply rolled around, stretching her paws into the air, and Meijeong laughed, giving the cat a quick boop to the nose before opening up her phone again to check the time. Jumin’s flight was coming in later that night, and the past few times he had called when he was on his way back to the penthouse. There were still a couple hours until then; so Meijeong picked up her book (She was finally getting around to re-reading American Gods) and got settled in with Elizabeth the 3rd on the couch.

A few chapters later, Meijeong’s phone rang, but it wasn’t Jumin. Instead, Zen had called her. 

“Hey, lovely Zen!” Meijeong answered cheerfully. Zen hadn’t been in the chat as much because of rehearsals, and she missed talking to him. “How’s it going?”

“Hey lady,” said Zen, “We finally have the show dates and I wanted to tell you first. You’re excited for me, right?”

“Of course! When is it? Although-” Meijeong teased, “I’m more excited for me, because this means I get to see you on stage~”

Zen laughed, “Two weekends from now is opening night. And I guess I’m excited that you’re excited for yourself too. I’m sure I’ll be dazzling in the costume. I’ll get you tickets.”

“Two tickets, right in front, for me and Jaehee,” Meijeong said, grinning.

“Right, Jaehee too. Can’t forget that,” said Zen. “It’s so strange to think someone as diligent and hard-working as Jaehee is one of my fans.”

“Are you saying I’m not diligent and hardworking~?” Meijeong said, teasing him again, loving the flustered reaction she got.

“No! I mean- You’re different, I just meant,” Zen stopped apologizing when he heard her giggling on the other end of the line, “You’re teasing me a lot tonight, princess.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help it,” said Meijeong, stretching out from her curled up position on the couch.

“Your laugh is adorable, so I’ll forgive you,” replied Zen.

“I really am excited for you though,” Meijeong said, fiddling with her hair, “I hope the show sells out every night and people line up to interview you about your unbelievable acting skills.”

“I hope so too,” said Zen.

“You’ve been rehearsing like crazy, so I’m sure it’ll happen,” Meijeong continued.

“I’m actually kind of nervous about you watching me,” Zen confessed. “I don’t get stage fright, but with you there, I’ll definitely be nervous and focused on not making even the slightest mistake.”

“Zen…” Meijeong sighed, “You don’t have to worry about- Hey Elizabeth don’t do that!” Elizabeth the 3rd had jumped onto the coffee table as was licking the teacup Meijeong had left sitting there, pushing it dangerously close to the edge with her nose. Meijeong dropped her phone and dove forward to grab the cup and saucer. Elizabeth gave her a disapproving look and gracefully stormed away, stopping to stare and flick her tail a few feet away.

“Sorry Zen,” Meijeong said once she had put the cup and saucer safely in the sink and returned to grab her phone, “I think Elizabeth was mad I wasn’t paying attention to her.”

“Ugh, right,” Zen sniffed, “I forgot you were watching the fur ball at the rich jerk’s place today.” His nose sniffled and Meijeong rolled her eyes and smiled. Zen’s cat allergies were real, but his response to the word cat was more Pavlovian than anything.

“Yeah, Jumin left me with her last night, and he should be back in…” Meijeong looked at the time, “Probably another hour or two.”

“I can’t believe you stay in his house…” Zen’s voice was full of bitterness. “He doesn’t do anything weird, while you’re there, does he?”

“Uh, weird? No?”

“Like, try and get you to stay the night while he’s there or insist you wear a certain uniform, or maybe you’ve seen cameras in weird places-“

“Zen! What? No, I’m fine,” Meijeong laughed, “Jumin hasn’t done anything weird like that. Why would you even-“

“I’m just saying- all men are wolves,” Zen lectured seriously, “Even rocks like the trust fund kid. You need to be careful anytime you’re alone with a man.”

“Even you?”

“Well… I’m a gentlemen, so you don’t have to worry about me,” Zen said piously, “I wouldn’t ever treat a lady badly. Of course, once it’s after midnight… let’s just say I’m a gentleman with the soul of a wolf. But… hey, why are you laughing?" 

Meijeong couldn’t help herself. She giggled, tried to compose herself, then kept giggling, “Sorry, haha,” she said, “It’s just, hahaha, I feel like I’ve got an older sister all of a sudden.”

“What? Gah, come on,” Zen choked, flabbergasted, “A sister? I’m so manly- do I need to send you a shirtless selfie? Come on babe.”

Meijeong only laughed harder, almost crying, and even Zen chuckled after protesting a bit longer.

“Haha. Look, once you meet me, you’ll never think that okay? Right? The pheromones just roll off me in waves.”

“Hahaha, I’m just teasing you Zen,” Meijeong said, wiping the little bit of tears from her eyes and catching her breath, “It’s nice that you’re looking out for me. I mean it. I’ve never really had someone like that in my life.”

“Well, no wonder you think I’m acting like a sister, then,” said Zen, “You just don’t recognize a prince looking out for you.”

“Thanks, really,” Meijeong sincerely meant it. Her phone beeped then. “Oh, hey, I have another call coming through, I need to take this.”

“Alright,” said Zen, “Goodnight lady. Take care of yourself.”

“Night, Zen! Take care!”

The call was from Jumin, who had caught an earlier flight and was on his way back to the penthouse. As soon as he hung up, Meijeong started cleaning around the apartment. It drove Jumin crazy that she did that, but it just felt wrong to leave her own small messes to someone else, even a maid. Especially a maid. The whole world of the rich felt strange to her at times- none of the security guards could be convinced to call her by her first name, no matter how hard she tried, and the whole concept of having this many people essentially acting as servants was just so awkward to her. At least the gardeners at Jumin’s private garden called her “Miss Meijeong” instead of “Miss Chen”; though to be fair she had only been there once (in the fall, she could only really plant daffodil bulbs and wait until spring anyway) so they might be convinced to loosen up with time.

Jumin, for one, still insisted on calling a taxi for her himself on the way home, and Meijeong decided she could give him that. It was easier than taking the subway or a bus, especially late at night.

The next day, during a quick lunch break, Meijeong saw she had a missed call from Jaehee.

“Zen must have told her about the show,” Meijeong said with a smile. She checked the time. “I definitely have a few minutes to fangirl…”

Aslan slinked into the room while she dialed, hopping up onto a high shelf to look down upon his domain and subjects. Meijeong rolled her eyes, watching him as she listened to the phone ring. Jaehee answered quickly compared to what she usually did while at work.

“Hello, Meijeong,” Jaehee began, “Thank you for calling me back.”

“Hey, no problem,” Meijeong said, “I have a few minutes to get excited about Zen’s show with you.”

Jaehee sighed wistfully. “I wish that was why I called. It’s only two weeks until we get to see Zen up on stage…” Then Jaehee became serious and business-like again. “I was actually wondering if you noticed anything unusual about Mr. Han last night.”

“Huh? No, I don’t think so…” Meijeong frowned, biting her lip as she thought. “He was excited to see Elizabeth as usual… a little tired from the flight but no more so than the other times I watched her… Why do you ask?" 

“Today he seems… well, strange, to but it bluntly,” said Jaehee, “Distracted and troubled.”

“That is weird… Jumin doesn’t really seem like the type to be troubled by anything,” Meijeong said, “Unless there’s some new development with his father’s girlfriend?”

“Not that I’m aware of…” Jaehee sighed. “I’ll look into that though. Thank you, sorry to bother you at work.” 

“I don’t mind. I just hope there’s nothing seriously wrong with Jumin,” said Meijeong. She reached up to scratch Aslan.

“Mr. Han is usually quite good about controlling his emotions, especially at work,” said Jaehee, “It’s likely that he’ll recover quickly from whatever the situation is.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Meijeong said.

“Thanks for your help,” Jaehee continued, “I have to get back to work. There’s a lot that needs taken care of today.”

“Just like every day,” said Meijeong, rolling her eyes and smiling, “Hang in there, Jaehee.”

Jaehee sighed. “Yes, well, the thought of seeing Zen on stage will keep me motivated,” she said, “Have a good day.”

“Bye.” 

After work, Meijeong checked the RFA chatroom to see if Jumin was there. He and Zen were both there, and to her surprise, talking about fried chicken. Jumin was rather short-tempered with Zen’s prodding, though in a much different way then normal. Meijeong was about to ask what was wrong, but then Jumin mentioned a strange woman being in his home.

 

MC: Wait, what?

ZEN: At your house?

ZEN: A woman?

ZEN: Female?

Jumin Han: Female.

MC: Human female?

ZEN: lololol right?;;

ZEN: ;;; Woman who!?

ZEN: Was she in clothes? Naked?
MC: Zen!! ><

Jumin Han: … I will not answer that crude question.

MC: Was it one of your employees?

MC: The maid?

Jumin Han: … I’ve never seen her before.

Jumin Han: Anyways, I remember that she said that we were going to get engaged.

ZEN: ! ? ! ? ! ? ! ?

ZEN: O_O!!

MC: Why would she say something like that?

MC: Do you have a stalker?

ZEN: O_O!!

Jumin Han: I don’t care what the woman said.

Jumin Han: What I can’t accept

Jumin Han: is that she entered my house without my permission.

ZEN: Sorry, I misunderstood you for a second.

Jumin Han: ?

ZEN: Didn’t you…

ZEN: imagine the woman?

ZEN: Since you’ve been alone for so long,

ZEN: you might have just sort of hallucinated? ;;

ZEN: <_< …

Jumin Han: I hope it was a hallucination.

Jumin Han: No… let’s just say that I did hallucinate.

ZEN: Right? Lolololol

MC: But…

MC: Why on earth would you hallucinate a fiancée?

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: You know.

ZEN: If you get some time off, why don’t you go see a therapist?

Jumin Han: I don’t have time.

MC: A stalker seems more likely than a hallucination.

MC: Although how they got through all of your security is a mystery.

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: A woman~ Engagement~

ZEN: That’s not something normal for you to say, lol

MC: I mean… I’m sure Jumin will find someone someday

MC: There’s got to be someone out there for him

Jumin Han: Well… I don’t know about now.

Jumin Han: but perhaps… someday. Nothing is impossible.

ZEN: lol

ZEN: Someday…

ZEN: ~ With that furball? ~

ZEN: Oh~~~!!

ZEN: Maybe you’re too obsessed with cats now and you think the cat’s a woman?

MC: lolololol Zen what?

ZEN: Did you see that fur ball when that woman came?

Jumin Han: Elizabeth the 3rd was there.

ZEN: You sure?

ZEN: You didn’t see the cat as a woman,

ZEN: but saw the cat beside the woman? Lolololol

MC: Zen ;;

ZEN: Oh man, lol. It’s funny that I’m asking this.

MC: Be serious ;;

MC: What is there was some strange woman at his house…

MC: Why on earth would someone just show up declare themselves Jumin’s fiancé?
MC: It could be dangerous…

ZEN: No way. Lol

ZEN: A woman at his place? Lololol

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: I do not want any woman other than Elizabeth the 3rd inside my house.

MC: I mean, Jaehee and I have both been there

MC: and the maid…

Jumin Han: …

Jumin Han: So I’ll have to tell my father.

ZEN: Why would you tell him?

Jumin Han: I have dinner plans with my father today.

ZEN: What?;;

ZEN: Why are you suddenly talking about that?

MC: Yeah;;

MC: Jumin, are you okay?

MC: You’re not making sense

MC: You have dinner plans with your father…?

Jumin Han: Yes.

Jumin Han: I have two meetings before that. A lot of work today.

ZEN: Dude lolololol

ZEN: ;;;; You’re starting to sound like Seven

ZEN: you’re not making any sense right now.

Jumin Han: I should get going.

Jumin Han: See you later, Meijeong. Make sure to eat properly.

Jumin Han left the chatroom.

ZEN: … He just left;;;

MC: Yeah ;;

ZEN: He was pretty weird today.

ZEN: You don’t think something happened to his head, right?

MC: I don’t know

MC: I don’t think it’s his head

MC: But I am worried that there’s something genuinely going on with him right now

ZEN: You really are worried about him, aren’t you?

MC: Even Jaehee was worried. It’s just too weird…

ZEN: You don’t have to worry too much.

ZEN: He’s always been fine on his own…

ZEN: <_< …

ZEN: Anyways, I have to go to rehearsal

MC: Okay, work hard and break a leg Zen!

ZEN: See you later ^^

ZEN left the chatroom.

MC left the chatroom.

Meijeong frowned and unwrapped her scarf from her neck as she got into the elevator at the apartment. Jumin was so hard to read sometimes, but this… Well… she had seen how tight security was at his penthouse and found it hard to believe some unwanted stranger could just wander in uninvited. On the other hand, the idea of Jumin hallucinating a woman because he was lonely seemed impossible. Meijeong thought about calling Jaehee, but Jumin acting weird undoubtedly meant more work for Jaehee, and Jaehee would eventually read the chat transcripts anyway. It could wait until then. Meijeong was meeting Jaehee for coffee on Saturday, so they could always talk about it in person then if Jumin was still having problems with mysterious possible fiancées. As weird as this whole thing was, Meijeong doubted it would turn out to be that big of a deal.

The elevator dinged, and Meijeong got off on her floor. She made sure to smile and wave at the security cameras as she passed them in the hall. It had become something of a habit; even though Meijeong knew there was no chance Seven was actually going to be watching. But it was sort of like having someone to greet her when she came home; even if that someone was probably busy on his hacking away on his computer surrounded by mountains of potato chip bags and had no idea she was even thinking about him.

Chapter Text

Humming as she chopped green onions, Meijeong kept a careful eye on the pot of bubbling broth and noodles. The air was a mix of savory scents, sesame oil, soy sauce, onions, and chicken broth. The weather was finally chilly to really appreciate soup, and Meijeong had made her favorite, with plenty of leftovers to bring to work the next day for lunch. She dumped the onions into the pot and turned off the stove before ladling herself a bowl.

Outside, the sky was already dark, a by-product of the slowly approaching winter. Meijeong took her bowl of soup to the living room, curling up on the couch and blowing on the noodles to cool them. Her phone was open to the RFA app on the table next to her, but she was only half paying attention to Zen, who was telling her about how great he looked today. Suddenly Jumin entered the chatroom, and he seemed to still be upset about… whatever it was that was bothering him. Meijeong slurped up a mouthful of thin noodles before setting down the bowl and picking up the phone to pay closer attention.

 

Jumin Han: I wanted to ask something.

ZEN: ?? To me?

Jumin Han: No. To Meijeong.

ZEN: <__< …

MC: Ok

MC: What’s up Jumin?

Jumin Han: What do you think of a father who’s tied up his son and the company is a little package

Jumin Han: and is planning to hand it over to his fiancée’s student?

MC: Wait, slow down

MC: What are you talking about? Did something happen?

MC: Are you saying your father and Glam Choi are officially engaged now?

ZEN: O_0 ---?

ZEN: Don’t tell me Mr. Han…

Jumin Han: He’s now completely blinded by a woman

Jumin Han: and is selling off his son along with the company’s reputation.

Jumin Han: He’s unbelievable.

Jumin Han: I’ve always known that his judgment gets clouded around women.

Jumin Han: but this is the absolute worst out of all of his mistakes.

MC: ???

ZEN: Dude;;

ZEN: Explain what’s going on.

ZEN: Your father’s really getting remarried? ;;

ZEN: O_O !!

Jumin Han: Yes. That woman named Glam Choi is my father’s fiancée

ZEN: Well;; I kind of expected that.

MC: T_T

ZEN: So then his fiancée’s student is Glam Choi’s student?

Jumin Han: …I’ll explain it to you if you want.

MC: … please do, this is getting confusing.

Jumin Han: Sugar Round is a complete no-name.

ZEN: !? ;;;

MC: uhmmm…?

MC: Sugar Round is…?

ZEN: What are you talking about?

Jumin Han: There’s no other way to put it.

Jumin Han: I really haven’t heard of the name.

MC:

MC: neither have we…?

ZEN: And, go on.

ZEN: Listening to this dude

ZEN: can actually be pretty fun sometimes;;

ZEN: <__< …

Jumin Han: I’m not making anything up.

ZEN: Didn’t say that.

Jumin Han: Anyways, the company’s CEO is the student of my father’s girlfriend.

ZEN: So?

MC: so that means…?

MC: I’m so confused;;

Jumin Han: My father wants me to marry her and have our company purchase Sugar Round.

ZEN: Uhm…

MC: !!!

Jumin Han: He’s trying to do what a normal businessman would never do.

Jumin Han: HOW BLIND do you have to be suggest that to his son!?

MC: wow

MC: that’s…

Jaehee Kang has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: Here you are.

MC: Hey Jaehee

MC: who are you talking to?

Jaehee Kang: U_U …

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han…

Jaehee Kang: You left in the middle of dinner

Jaehee Kang: and you’re not answering your calls;;

Jaehee Kang: We’re in a bit of a tricky situation here.

MC: Wait, that happened?

MC: Are you okay Jaehee?

ZEN: Omg;;

ZEN: You left in the middle of dinner with your father?

Jumin Han:

Jaehee Kang: I’m glad at least you are on the messenger;;

ZEN: So that’s what he did;;

Jaehee Kang: I understand how you feel, but Mr. Chairman is fairly angry.

Jumin Han: I don’t want to talk to my father for a while.

Jumin Han: I shouldn’t contact him until he gets his womanizing habits in check.

Jumin Han: At the same time, we need to prepare for C&R stock prices to drop because of his divorce.

Jumin Han: Gather the board of directors tomorrow.

Jaehee Kang: Tomorrow!?

Jumin Han: Yes, I’m leaving now.

Jumin Han: I don’t like that Meijeong has to see me like this.

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

ZEN: He left.

ZEN: Wow…

MC: Jumin must be so stressed out right now… I’m worried

MC: T_T

ZEN: Yeah… I don’t even want to say this

ZEN: Jaehee;; I feel like this situation he’s in might actually be really serious?

Jaehee Kang: I don’t know all the details but it seems that Mr. Chairman

Jaehee Kang: wants Mr. Han to marry one of Glam Choi’s students

ZEN: We heard;;

MC: That’s awful

Jaehee Kang: And it seems he wants C&R to buy the company that the student runs after the marriage

MC: that’s…

MC: weird

MC: so suddenly?

ZEN: yeah… ;;

Jaehee Kang: Nothing’s for sure yet,

Jaehee Kang: but I’m sure there’s something going on.

Jaehee Kang: Suggesting that C&R but a company we have no information on?

Jaehee Kang: And marriage as the condition…? ;;

MC: So that means the woman in his penthouse this morning is this mystery fiancée?

ZEN: Yeah…

Jaehee Kang: It must be possible because she is acquainted with Mr. Chairman’s fiancée.

ZEN: … I never thought I’d say this

ZEN: but no wonder he’s pissed. >_<*

ZEN: I really don’t like that Glam woman… ;;

ZEN: I feel like she is hiding something up her sleeve.

ZEN: She’s making Jumin marry one of her student’s right after she and Mr. Han get engaged;;

MC: Yeah… ;;

MC: It’s definitely suspicious

707 has entered the chatroom.

707: !!!

707: aelja;ldifalnsivdfjksl1820478320-ad839fdnvj;

MC: kl;ajeinvam

MC: Hey Seven lol

MC: how’s work going?

707: aidonsjlal;kdm

Jaehee Kang: … speak in words please.

Jaehee Kang: U_U…

ZEN: lololol

ZEN: Seven you just missed Jumin

707: Work??

707: Work is not important!

707: WOMAN?? WOMAN?? FIANCEE?

707: Not Elly?

707: But a real woman????

707: OxO !?

ZEN: lololol

ZEN: We’re all surprised lol

MC: And apparently it’s got something to do with Glam Choi trying to arrange a marriage for Jumin…

707: Omg

707: OMG.

707: A real woman…

707: I can’t even imagine…

Jaehee Kang: ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: I think you’re missing the real problem Luciel

Jaehee Kang: This may be bad news for the company

Jaehee Kang: And it’s already causing more work for me;;

MC: T_T

MC: I’m sorry Jaehee;;

Jaehee Kang: I have to call a meeting of the board of directors…

Jaehee Kang: so many phone calls to make now

Jaehee Kang: U_U …

MC: Hang in there!

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: The trust fund kid is lucky to have someone as hard working as you by his side;;

Jaehee Kang: I have to go…

Jaehee Kang: so much work;;

Jaehee Kang: ;;

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

ZEN: I have to go too.

ZEN: I just stopped in to chat real quick after working out

ZEN: and I need to shower

ZEN: but I got so distracted by everything going on…

MC: Alright, see you Zen

ZEN: night!

ZEN has left the chatroom.

707: Gah…

707: my plan…

MC: lol what plan?

707: ...

707: T_T

707: I thought

707: Jumin was gonna

707: marry Elly

707: and wanted to be considerate for Elly’s happiness

707: But seeing how things are going

707: GAH

707: There goes my dream…

707: During the wedding…

707: when Jumin and Elly face each other

707: I was going to yell

707: and walk and scream

707: THIS MARRIAGE IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!!!

MC: T_T

MC: so sad;;

707: AND

707: hold Elly’s hand…

707: Elly’s paws…

707: Elly’s hands

707: Elly’s hand paws…

MC: lolol

707: and take her out of there, lololol

707: But that won’t happen now…

MC: Sorry Seven lol

MC: You’ll have to think of a new dream

707: T_T

707: Anyways,

707: It doesn’t seem like Jumin wants to get married

707: so I hope he just says no and gets it over with

707: He’s not the type to care what others think

707: so I bet he’ll be fine, lol

MC: Yeah…

MC: Normally Jumin’s really decisive

MC: But because his father’s involved… I think he’ll have a lot to think about ;;

707: Ya

707: Why, Mr. Han… T_T

707: He’s totally in love with Glam Choi

707: And she’s using that to go for a

707: buy-one-get-one-free deal

MC: lolol

MC: yeah, it kind of seems that way

707: Of course Jumin’s angry

MC: yeah T_T

MC: this whole situation stinks of…

MC: gold diggers ;;

MC: which is not something I would ever have to deal with in real life lol

707: yeah definitely

MC: lol

MC: I mean

MC: secret charity organizations and hackers I can handle

MC: but this is just so soap opera

707: ya ;;

707: Business Relations; the Dramatic Love Lives of the Han family

707: lololololol

MC: lolol yeah

707:

707: Huh?

707: Huh….?

707: What???

MC: What’s wrong? Emergency?

707: GAHHH!!!

707: 0x0 !?

707: !!!

707: Meijeong!!!

707: The moon in the sky…!!!

MC: Oh? Is it a full moon tonight?

MC: It’s too cloudy for me to be able to tell

707: Oh...

707: But

707: there aren’t enough stars for the moon to come up!!!

707: ~ >_< ~

707: *******_

707: Help me!!!

MC: lolol okay

MC: *

707: Ahh! >.<

707: Got it! *

707: Thank you!

MC: You’re welcome!

707: ~* The girl who gave me a star *~

707: I will

707: never forget this!

707: The moon’s up!!!

707: Ahwooooo~~~!!!

MC: Ahwooooo~~~!!

MC: lololol

707: lolololol <3 <3

707: When the moon is up

707: my focus level goes up like crazy

707: Maybe I have wolf blood in my veins, lol

MC: Oh

MC: that sounds so cool

MC: Although

MC: I think instead of a wolf

MC: you’re more like a big cat

MC: like a leopard or a jaguar or something

707: <3 ^3^ <3

MC: stalking the dark jungle alone at night

707: YES

707: exactly lolol

707: RAAAWRRR!!

MC: lolololol

MC: exactly

707: Anyways

707: since the moon is shining over us,

707: I should get back to work.

MC: T_T so soon

707: T_T

707: ~ Make a wish to the moon ~

707: >_<

707: Please let Elly be a woman

707: AND

707: Please let Mr. Han come to his senses.

MC: Hmmmm…

MC: Please let me meet the rest of the RFA members soon!

707: Ohhh!!

707: ^^

707: Then laterz!!

707: ~* Happy moon night! *~

MC: Happy star night!

707: lololol

707: Toodles for real!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

The conversation had gone on much longer than Meijeong was expecting, and the soup had gone cold. Normally that only happened with her tea… Meijeong sighed and went to reheat it, still smiling from her conversation with Seven despite the serious news about Jumin. The whole situation just felt completely out of her league. Arranged marriages were not something that people dealt with in the modern age, right? Maybe things would settled down once Jumin gathered his thoughts and spoke with his father…

By the weekend, however, things between Jumin and his father had even more tense. Meijeong and Jaehee had to relocate their coffee date to the small shop in the C&R Building because Jaehee was too busy to go anywhere else. The dark circles under her eyes looked like bruises. 

“I’ll be okay,” Jaehee said, “I have Zen’s show to look forward to next week.”

“I know but… you don’t look okay,” Meijeong frowned. She bit her lip and looked at Jaehee’s pale skin and the slight shake to her hands when she lifted the coffee to her mouth, “You’re not sleeping at all. I should bring you food on my days off, at least then I’d know you were eating something healthy.”

“That’s very kind of you, but don’t worry,” Jaehee sighed, “I’m used to it.” Patting the lunchbox Meijeong had brought for her, Jaehee smiled unconvincingly, “Of course, I won’t say no, but you needed strain yourself.” Around them, the coffee shop was crowded. Perhaps Meijeong was imagining things, but… compared to the last time she had been here, the mood in the building seemed tense. Jaehee wasn’t the only person with dark eyes clutching their coffee like they needed it to live.

“Has Jumin talked to his father at all yet?” Meijeong said, carefully sipping her tea.

“No…” Jaehee sighed again, tipping her head forward to lean on her propped up arm. “Thankfully, Mr. Chairman seems to kept some of his sense and isn’t pushing the issue right now. Maybe he’ll wait until after his wedding with Glam Choi…”

“Maybe they both just need time to think.”

“I hope so,” said Jaehee, taking a long swig of her coffee before looking up at Meijeong and smiling, “In the meantime, let’s talk about Zen’s show. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am that we’ll get to experience it together.”

Meijeong grinned, shifting in her seat and crossing her legs. “Me too. Should we get Zen some flowers? Or is there some other kind of gift?” She laughed. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen a live show, I don’t even know what the etiquette is these days.”

“I think if we both gave him the flowers together that would be a good idea,” said Jaehee. For a moment, her eyes glistened. “Normally, white roses for Zen would be perfect, but since this particularly role is more of a dark romantic character, perhaps red would be better…”

“Both?” suggested Meijeong, “To show the depth and complexity of his character?”

“Mhmmm, yes, I think you’re right,” said Jaehee.

“Red and White roses with black and silver ribbon maybe…?” Jaehee’s eye’s lit up at Meijeong’s suggestion.

“Yes! That would be the perfect combination to capture the both elegant and… obsessive sides of Zen in this role.” Jaehee adjusted her glasses and took another sip of her coffee before she continued. “Dark and romantic, yes still pure and elegant…”

Meijeong smiled and just listened as Jaehee continued to gush about Zen and how she thought he might perform the role. It was nice seeing Jaehee relax, even for a few moments. There was a brightness and passion that Jaehee had that shone at moments like this, and even pale from exhaustion she looked very alive.

“My coworker keeps pestering me about Zen and his shows,” Meijeong said, shaking her head and smiling, “She’s still in high school, so ever since she found out I knew someone like him she’s gotten all silly and boy crazy.” Pausing, Meijeong laughed. “Well, actually, no more boy crazy than usual. It’s just weird to have her obsessed over someone I know for a change.”

“I can only imagine,” said Jaehee, frowning seriously, “Most of Zen’s fans are respectful, but the younger girls tend to lose their heads sometimes. I hope you haven’t promised her anything.”

“It’s not my place to go making offers on Zen’s behalf,” Meijeong said, sharper than she intended. Jaehee’s constant nagging on the subject of Zen’s career and fan expectations was one thing that she could do without. Meijeong took a sip of her tea. “I wouldn’t do that to him. Besides,” Meijeong smiled and rolled her eyes, trying to sound cheerful again by thinking of Sun-mi’s dating habits. “She’ll probably move on to the next crush sooner than later.”

“That’s often the case, with young fans,” Jaehee nodded solemnly, “It’s why the more mature fans like ourselves must be careful to protect Zen.”

“Right,” replied Meijeong, not feeling particularly enthusiastic.

Jaehee began to go on about a fan’s behavior she saw at one Zen’s previous shows… when suddenly Meijeong felt a strange prickly feeling at the back of her neck. It felt as though she was being watched, but when she turned to look, though, no one was there, or at least, no one but a half dozen dead-eyed employees clutching their cappuccinos. Meijeong brushed it off. One of them had probably just been staring blankly in their direction for a moment.

The conversation turned to more positive things, previous shows, the actors that Zen would be performing with, and the size of the theater. Soon, though Jaehee had to get back to work.

“I shouldn’t have taken this much time as it is,” said Jaehee, checking her phone nervously, “There’s too much going on.”

“I’m glad you did though,” said Meijeong, and she meant it. She waved goodbye as she walked back to the front doors. “When things slow done some, we should do this more often.”

Jaehee smiled. “I agree. Once the problems with Mr. Han and the Chairman are sorted out… and the stock prices have recovered… Well, we’ll see each other at the show.”

“Yep! I won’t let you miss that. Bye!”

“Yes… goodbye” Groaning, Jaehee turned and went back toward the direction of the elevators, disappearing into the crowd of suits.

 

“I can’t believe I have this stupid family thing on opening night…” whined Sun-mi the second the customer she was waiting on at the register walked out the front door.

“Shush,” said Meijeong, looking pointedly at all the other shoppers still in the bookstore. She handed a pair of brightly illustrated children’s books to a middle-aged man with a heavy bald spot. “You said you’re son is turning 5, right? These are really good level for young readers and it’s a really popular series with boys right now.” The man thanked her and made his purchase at the register with Sun-mi. For a while, things were too busy for any kind of conversation, but eventually, the store was empty but a pair of college age girls sitting on the floor and flipping through some paranormal romance novels in a back corner. Aslan sat in one of their laps.

“I just wish I could skip it and go to the show,” Sun-mi continued the conversation exactly where they had left off. She stuck out her lower lip and pouted.

“Your grandparents 50 year wedding anniversary party isn’t exactly a small thing,” sighed Meijeong, dusting around the books. There was a scattering of orange cat hair up on the higher shelves that Mr. Park had missed in the morning. “Besides, you have tickets for one of the later shows. It’s running for two weeks.”

“Yeah… but…” Sun-mi sighed and started shelving books. “You’re going on opening night. If I don’t go with you, I don’t get to meet Zen.”

“You know Zen?” The girls in the corner came to the register, each carrying a few books from the latest popular series. Meijeong followed them up and started ringing them out.

“Oh no, not me!” said Sun-mi, grinning and pointing at Meijeong, “My friend here does though!”

“Oh, we’re friends now?” Meijeong teased, “I see how it is. I feel exploited.” Making her way behind the counter to the register, she laughed and elbowed Sun-mi playfully. The two teenage girls stared wide-eyed at Meijeong with a weird mix of awe and jealousy.

“Are you dating him or something?” said the shorter of the two girls, glaring at Meijeong.

“No, definitely not,” Meijeong replied, uncomfortable.

“Hey, don’t ask stuff like that,” the other girl said as she handed Sun-mi a debit card, “It’s rude.”

“You wanted to know too,” replied the first girl, rolling her eyes dismissively. “We’re his fans. Knowing is practically part of our job.” She looked up at Meijeong with a barely concealed scowl.

“Well, yeah,” her friend said, “But it’s not like it’s our business.” Unlike her friend, she smiled at Meijeong and Sun-mi. “Are you going to see his new show? We’re so excited! This will be the second show of his that we’re going to see live! Only 2 more days!!” The four of them gushed over Zen’s acting for a few minutes before the two girls left the store. Sun-mi’s face turned hard once they had left, staring at the back the shorter girl and stroking Aslan irritably in her arms.

“God… I don’t sound like that, do I?” she scowled, “I can’t believe she got so nasty about Zen dating someone.”

“I guess when you’re famous, people feel entitled to know about your love life,” said Meijeong, frowning and thinking about Jumin and his family’s current debacle. 

“I mean… I know I tease you about dating him, but like… Ugh,” Sun-mi set Aslan down and checked the time on her phone, “What a bitch... You know I’m your friend and I support you dating or not dating whoever you want, right?” Sun-mi added suddenly, fiddling with her necklace. She almost seemed embarrassed.

“Of course!” Meijeong said quickly, blushing a bit at the sudden sincerity, “Sun-mi, I love joking with you. You’re not like that girl at all!”

“Okay, good,” Sun-mi replied, smiling more cheerfully again. ”Don’t ever let me turn into someone like that, okay?”

“You could never… ugh…. Come here you,” Meijeong grabbed Sun-mi and hugged her close, making sure to playfully mess up her long black hair as she did. “I’ll try and see about introducing you to Zen after one of the shows. Maybe I’ll try and see it a second time with you." 

“Meeeiiiiii…. Why are you so awesome?” Sun-mi giggled and hugged her tight. Meijeong patted her head and then pulled away.

“Let’s start cleaning up,” she said. “It’s almost close and if we get everything taken care of then I can close the register quick and get us out of here a little early.”

The rest of the night passed fairly quickly. True to her word, Meijeong was counting the drawers and making sure all the sales receipts were in order early. She was about to tell Sun-mi to head on home when suddenly her phone rang. It was Jumin.

“Oh geez…” Meijeong yelled over her shoulder to Sun-mi, “I have to take this call, Once you finish sweeping, you can head out.”

“Mmkay!”

“Hey Jumin, is everything alright?” Meijeong answered. There was a long, awkward pause. Meijeong almost hung up thinking it was a mis-dial, but then Jumin finally spoke. 

“I hope you’re not busy…” There was another awkward pause. “I wanted to talk to you.”

“I’m just finishing up a few last things at work… “ Meijeong shut the register and carried the counted bills to the safe, locking them inside. “I can pause for a few minutes.” She sat on a stool behind the register and leaned on the counter, one arm propping her head up.

“How has your day been?” said Jumin. His tone was… distracted and rushed. Like he was trying to hurry through the formalities.

“Fine,. Work has been all usual stuff, there was a customer early who was a little rude, but it wasn’t anything too bad.” Meijeong thought that was enough pleasantries from her, and started pushing, “What did you want to talk to me about?”

“Something quite uncomfortable happened at the office today…” His voiced trailed off. 

“Do you want to talk about it?” Meijeong asked, sitting up straight and brushing her hair back.

“God, I don’t even want to think about it again.” Jumin exhaled loudly. He sounded bitter. “To be honest with you, I want to go somewhere where no one can find me and just rest for a day… This is really not like me.” He just sounded so… defeated. Meijeong couldn’t tell if he was angrier at the situation or himself.

“Maybe you should? Sometimes…” Meijeong paused, biting her lip as she thought of how to say what she was feeling. “Sometimes just taking a step back from a situation for a bit can help?” 

“It’s only a wish. It’s not realistically possible. It will not only damage the company, but it will damage those who work hard for the company. I manage to get everything done perfectly…” He sighed, “But I don’t think my motivation has been this low ever.”

“Hang in there, Jumin,” Meijeong said, “You’ll figure this out and find your motivation again.”

“Thank you for saying that even when I am being so pathetic.”

“Jumin, you’re not being pa-“ He interrupted her before she could finish.

“Everyone’s so worried about the company. And my father keeps on insisting his ways for some reason…” It was rare to hear him sound so angry. His voice was hardly raised, but the rage rolled off in waves that could be felt through the phone. “Does he not know that people find happiness in their own ways? God…”

“I’m sorry Jumin,” Meijeong. “I don’t really how to help you.”

“I really don’t know either,” he sighed. “My head aches.”

“Jumin…”

“Whatever happens, I will not fail. It’s my first time being in such bad terms with my father so I don’t feel good…” Jumin paused. “Have you ever had any troubles with your parents?”

“I have, yeah.” Meijeong’s face fell. She shook her head, “Every family goes through rough patches.”

“It must have been very difficult. You can tell me if you want.” Jumin said, “But I don’t know if my solutions will help you…” Meijeong could practically hear him frowning, “I can be very unemotional when it comes to relationships. Perhaps you might be better at handling them.”

“Well, you need to balance things, right?” Meijeong stood up and stretched, “I tend to rely on emotions and feelings, so sometimes I need help from someone logical. Like you or Jaehee. And maybe…” Meijeong paused, “Someone logical like you needs help from emotional people.”

“Like you…?” Jumin said, and Meijeong laughed.

“Or Zen. “ Meijeong heard Jumin snort and rolled her eyes. “I’m serious! Having completely different perspectives on issues means that if you work together, you might be able to find solutions that neither of you would have come up with on your own.” 

“You know…” said Jumin, sounding more cheerful now, “I’ve read somewhere that sometimes people just talk about their problems not to receive any advice but to have someone just listen. It sounded so inefficient at the time but now I can sort of understand. Perhaps I just needed someone to listen to me rather than giving me a specific solution.”

“Jumin, you’re my friend, I’m here to listen whenever you need,” Meijeong said, “Especially when you’re going through something this difficult.” 

“Friend… yes...” Jumin paused and the spoke seriously. “You must have a lot to think about. Thank you for listening to me. Talking with you makes me feel more comfortable.”

“I’m glad,” Meijeong smiled and picked up some books Sun-mi had missed and putting them behind the counter.

“To be honest… “ Jumin spoke methodically, “I’ve never even felt this with Elizabeth the 3rd. I’d like to get to know you better.”

“I’d like to get to know you better too!” Meijeong smiled and sat back down on the stool. “I can’t wait until we finally have a party date and I get to see the whole RFA together.” She spun in her seat a bit at the thought. “Oh! Have you heard anything from V, by the way?” 

“Oh, uh… no, I haven’t heard from him recently. You should ask Luciel,” Jumin said quickly.

“Yeah, I will,” said Meijeong. “But Jumin, just let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you. The whole RFA, we’re here for you, you know that right?”

“Right,” Jumin said, “Well, it’s late now. Enjoy the rest of your evening and rest up. I will call you again if time allows it.”

“Okay, bye Jum-“

He hung up before Meijeong could finish saying goodbye. She sighed and rolled her eyes. Jumin was always trickier to read than most people, but the whole situation with his father and the arranged marriage just seemed to be dragging all kind of internal chaos to the surface for him.

It wasn’t until Meijeong got home that she found what exactly had made Jumin call. Jaehee told them all in the chatroom that apparently Sarah the “fiancée” had interrupted a board of directors meeting with Jumin’s father’s help. The three had a massive fight in the middle of the boardroom, and there were now serious concerns that stock prices and investors might be affected. Then Yoosung signed on and brought even more bad news.

“Who is ‘Sarah’? The Mysterious Woman Dating son of C&R Chairman- Jumin Han?” Meijeong read aloud. “Oh great… ‘Company Director and the beautiful young businesswoman are definitely in love,’ blah blah this is all garbage. Ugh.”

There were no sources on the article, at least none that any of them could find on it, and Meijeong and the rest of the RFA all seemed to be thinking the same thing- Glam Choi was deliberately spreading rumors to force Jumin’s hand. The worst part was that there didn’t seem to be anything any of them could do to stop it for now. And Meijeong really hated not being able to do anything to help a friend. Sitting on cross-legged on the floor of the apartment, she opened her emails and began angrily searching for new guests, as if somehow making the RFA party even more successful would fix everything. She even sent a message to Seven to ask about V (no, no word from V yet, and for the first time Meijeong felt some of Yoosung’s anger about that situation) and when none of that helped with all her nervous energy, Meijeong decided that even though it the middle of the night and cold out, she really, really needed to go for a walk. She angrily changed into some warmer sweats and furiously laced up running shoes.

When she got downstairs and stepped out of the building, she felt a prickly sort of feeling on the back of her neck, like her hair was standing up, and not from the cold. Meijeong looked around. It was late, and this was a safe neighborhood, but…

“I’m not getting stabbed just because Glam Choi knows how to manipulate news media,” she muttered angrily to no one, hoping that there was no one around to hear how ridiculous that sounded.

Instead of going for a walk, Meijeong went back up to the apartment, and started (angrier still) making as many box lunches for Jaehee as she had the ingredients for.

“Jaehee's not going to be getting enough time to eat any time soon.” She muttered, chopping the vegetables with a little more force than was necessary. “I’ll be damned if she starves because Jumin’s life has turned into a freaking soap opera.” Meijeong wiped her forehead with the back of her hand, still holding the knife, and looked over her work.

“I need more chicken. I’ll get that tomorrow,” she said, grabbing a handful of onion to chop, and then added, “At least I can fix that.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“Oh. My. God.”

“I know, Zen was breathtaking,” Jaehee said, glowing. Even dark circles and the fact that she had been wearing the same business suit for almost 24 hours couldn’t hide her joy. “I could hardly breathe." 

“Oh my god,” Meijeong gaped in her seat. There were still a few tearstains on her face, even though the show and the applause and the encore applause had more than finished, and the theater was almost half-empty as the crowds filtered out. “Oh my god. Oh my god. That was… oh my god.”

“When Zen sang his final solo, it was though heaven itself opened up to witness him,” Jaehee continued, “And the heartbreaking way he harmonized with the others at the finale…”

“I forgot how much better live music is…” Meijeong sighed, leaning back in her seat, “I had chills the whole time.”

“Yes…” Jaehee said, “Zen was magnificent.”

“It was all magnificent…” Stretching her arms out in front of her, Meijeong grinned, “And now I get to finally meet Zen in person!” She brushed her hair out of her face, tucking a loose piece back into the low bun. As Meijeong stood up, she straightened her skirt, practically bouncing with excitement. “It’s nice to be able to go out with friends and dress up nice for a change.”

“Ah… yes, I suppose,” said Jaehee, stretching as she stood as well, and reality came rushing back as Meijeong remembered that Jaehee had come straight from the office, and would be going straight back as soon as they said hello to Zen.

“Sorry Jaehee,” Meijeong frowned. “I wish there was more I could do to help.”

Jaehee merely straightened her glasses and sighed. “Thank you, but just making sure that I’ve had enough to eat and coming to Zen’s show with me was already more than enough.”

Meijeong grabbed the bouquet of roses that the two of them brought for Zen and followed Jaehee down the aisle as Jaehee lead the way back to where the actors greeted fans after the show. The theater was one of the larger ones according to Jaehee, a testament to the popularity of the musical’s source material and the size of the production. Most of the audience simply left after the show was finished, but there were still quite a few fans loitering both in the theater and in the lobby, hoping to get a glimpse of one of the show’s stars. Those fans were the amateurs, according to Jaehee- the diehard fans knew about a back lobby in this particular theater where they could meet and congratulate the actors.

The two of them made their way there, but even for a lesser-known area, it was still crowded. A few of the show’s stars were already milling about with their fans, but there was no sign of Zen yet. Meijeong made sure to congratulate each of them quickly as they wove past towards the stage door. At that door, a larger clump of women and girls waited, many holding gifts and flowers. Meijeong and Jaehee waited just to the side of them, out of the way. Meijeong grinned and laughed internally at a few shirts that proudly proclaimed the wearers members of “Zen’s Official Fan Club”.

When Zen finally appeared at the door, he was swarmed instantly. He was a full head taller than all the women surrounding him, but he was so focused on his fans that he didn’t see Meijeong and Jaehee lingering out of the way. Meijeong was somewhat glad for that- it gave her a chance to observe him without him noticing. His smile was genuine, but he was definitely distracted. His red eyes were darting around even as he gratefully thanked each fan and accept their tokens and favors. Meijeong also noticed, with amusement, that Jaehee seemed to stand up straight and stiffen at the sight of him.

How does Jaehee manage to convince herself that she’s not attracted to Zen? Meijeong thought, mentally smiling about it. It’s pretty obvious to everyone but her and him…

Finally, Zen’s eyes found them. Though he obviously couldn’t have recognized Meijeong, Zen knew Jaehee instantly and his whole face lit up when he saw the two women standing together. Meijeong gave a little wave and grinned. To his credit, Zen didn’t immediately ignore the remaining fans to rush over, even though it was obvious that’s what he wanted to do. He simply winked and mouthed the words “Wait there” to them both.

After a few minutes, Zen politely excused himself and stepped out of the crowd towards Meijeong and Jaehee.

“Meijeong!” Zen called as he made his way to their corner of the room, his pale face flushed with excitement, “Nice to finally meet you!”

“Zen!” Meijeong was grinning from ear to ear and gave an excited little bounce on her toes. “I’m so excited to meet you. That show… you were amazing!”

“Wow…” said Zen, “You’re such a cute lady. Your eyes are so bright.”

“Oh…” Meijeong blushed at the compliment. It was hard not to get a little flustered by Zen in person. She wasn’t used to getting compliments from someone so mind-blowingly attractive. “But the show… you were amazing. Jaehee and I brought you flowers and everything.”

“Yes,” added Jaehee, who had been hanging back until then. She straightened her glasses, and Meijeong swore they almost glinted like an anime character, “It was your finest performance to date.”

Now it was Zen’s turn to blush. He graciously accepted the flowers from Meijeong and grinned sheepishly, cradling them in one arm on top of the gifts he already received. “I’m really glad you both liked it so much,” he said, “I was really nervous knowing you were going to be in the audience. I wanted to make a good first impression.” He rubbed the back of his neck and sighed, still smiling.

“You already made a good first impression in the chatroom,” Meijeong teased, “But seriously, that was incredible. I was breathless, the music, the acting…”

“That obsessive passion, the way you managed to disappear into the character so completely…” said Jaehee, nodding vigorously and pressing a hand over her heart, “I was so moved.”

A few fans came closer then, pausing shyly just outside of the circle of conversation. Meijeong stepped back and smiled as Zen politely greeted them and signed the posters they had brought. When he was done, Zen sighed.

“I feel bad,” he said, looking around. The room was emptying. Many of the other actors had already left, but there were still lingering fans around. “If we stay here, I’ll have to keep leaving you both for the fans…”

“Your dedication to your fans is to be admired, not hindered,” said Jaehee. She straightened her suit and looked at her phone. “In case, we should be going. I have to get back to work, the situation with Mr. Han-”

“So soon?” said Zen, frowning disappointedly. He looked from Jaehee back to Meijeong. “Both of you?”

“No, I’m free for the rest of the evening,” said Meijeong cheerfully, “I wasn’t sure if you and the other actors would have plans but if you’re free we could go grab coffee or somethi-“

“I think its best we both leave together soon,” Jaehee said, frowning, “We wouldn’t want people to see you two together by yourselves and get the wrong idea. It could cause problems for Zen.”

“Oh… well…” Zen said as he processed what Jaehee said.

Meijeong pursed her lips and inhaled sharply, “Jaehee, I know you mean well, but Zen is a just a friend and-“ She was interrupted, this time not by Jaehee but by a bit of a commotion by the entrance. There were only four or five fans left, the shyest of the stragglers waiting for Zen to finish his conversation, and it was their gasp that distracted her. A brunette girl in a doll-like dress rushed their way.

“Oh!! It’s Zen!” the girl exclaimed. Her tone was high and cutesy, and something about it irritated Meijeong. “I-I didn’t dare dream you’d still be waiting. Did someone call you? You look so handsome in person!!” 

“…Echo Girl…?” Meijeong heard one of the girls by the door say.

“Hahahaha, hello!” Echo Girl waved and posed for a second in the fan who had spoken’s direction, before turning and grabbing Zen’s hand. “I’m Echo Girl. I’m sure you’ve heard of me. I just had to come and tell you how much I loved your show tonight!”

“Uh…” Zen’s eyes grew wide, startled, and he reflexively pulled his hand back out of hers. “You’re… my fan?”

Meijeong shot a quick look to Jaehee, feeling confused. But Jaehee’s face was suddenly very hard-lined, creasing the dark circles and that left Meijeong feeling even more confused. The name Echo Girl sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place why, and Jaehee’s reaction was much more harsh than her earlier reactions to over-zealous fans.

“I’ve watched “The Jalapeño Topping Was So Spicy” more than 10 times!” chirped Echo Girl and Meijeong realized why her voice sounded so grating- it was the sound of someone forcing their voice to sound childish and cutesy to an extreme. “I know the lines by heart. Do you want me to say some of them?”

“No, that’s fine… “ Zen said, recovering some from his initial shock. “Echo Girl, nice to meet you. I’m honored that you appreciate my performances.”

Echo Girl giggled and winked. “It’s my dream to go to the RFA party. The last time it was held, I was still in college. Now that I’m pretty famous, can’t you invite me?” She folded her hands and pouted, looking up at Zen, “A lot of big people show up there!”

“How do you know about the RFA party…?” Meijeong frowned. She crossed her arms uncomfortably and looked at Jaehee and Zen in confusion.

“Who are you?” Echo Girl’s head snapped over to look at Meijeong, glaring at Meijeong the way a cat did when it spotted a potential threat. Or in this case, like a kitten.

“Meijeong works for the RFA,” Jaehee said. “She’s our guest coordinator.”

Echo Girl’s face immediately went from scowling to simpering. “Ahahaha. You’re Jumin Han’s assistant, aren’t you?” Echo Girl’s smile was almost painfully painted on, and not just because of the amount of makeup she wore. “I remember you now. It’s very nice to meet you, of course.”

Uncomfortable, Meijeong unwrapped just one hand from her waist and shook Echo Girl’s outstretched hand politely. Echo Girl immediately turned her full attention back to Zen, even as she spoke to the entire group.

“Well, anyone who’s anyone knows about that super private party! My dad was invited once! Jumin, Zen, and that famous photographer…” Echo Girl counted off on her fingers, every movement planned and calculated for maximum appeal… Meijeong supposed it was supposed to be adorable, but frankly she was just impressed that Echo Girl could manage to speak while doing it. “I know all the members... Well, now I do.”

Meijeong smiled awkwardly back at her. Jaehee’s expression was basically blank professionalism. Whether or not it was because Jaehee was bored of the conversation or just exhausted, Meijeong couldn’t say. Zen’s smile was much more genuine.

“I texted Jumin asking him to invite me, but he ignored it.” Echo Girl continued, pouting.

“So you know him as well…?” asked Zen.

“Yeah. I once modeled for C&R’s branch company. I even have his business card. I was the model for the heart-shaped vitamin pills.”

“Yes, it’s true,” added Jaehee “It was a fairly successful campaign.

Echo Girl completely ignored her. “Jumin’s good looking too but you’re a god in real life…”

“That is true,” Zen said, completely un-ironically, and Meijeong snorted with laughter before she could help herself. Zen frowned. “What did I say?" 

“Nothing! No, it’s just…” Meijeong grinned, “It’s just fun to see you talk in person instead of just online. I don’t know how you manage to make narcissism so charming and sweet, but you do.”

Echo Girl look positively appalled by Meijeong now. Her petite mouth hung wider open than Meijeong would have thought possible.  

“It’s because I’m so good looking,” said Zen, “I can make anything seem charming without even trying. It is unbelievable, really, something against nature itself, and yet…” 

Meijeong giggled again, causing Zen to blush. She was about to tease him for it, when a woman in a business suit, looking almost as stressed as Jaehee, stormed into the room. She straightened up when she saw Echo Girl and began to head in their direction.

“Oops,” Echo Girl said, placing a finger on her chin and tilting her head, “Looks like my manager found me. I have to get going! I’m sure fate will bring us together again soon, Zen!”

“Yeah… uh…” Zen looked flustered, “It was very nice meeting you. Thanks for your support.”

“Yep! Bye-Bye now!” Echo Girl flounced over to her manager, who began to lecture her in hushed tones and escorted her out of the room.

“So…” Meijeong began after a long silence, “She was someone famous, right?”

“Yes,” said Jaehee, straightening her glasses, “Echo Girl is well known for pop music and television acting. I believe Yoosung has mentioned being a fan of hers.”

“And she’s a fan of mine…?” said Zen incredulously, “That’s amazing. Having someone that famous be one of my fans… it makes me feel really good about myself, haha.” Zen grinned.

“You should feel good about yourself!” Meijeong exclaimed, smiling. “Seriously, you work so hard and it shows!”

Zen blushed again, and Jaehee opened her mouth to agree, but her phone immediately started ringing.

“Assistant Kang speaking,” she said, walking away a few steps, “Yes, I’ll be returning to the office momentarily…” The room was completely empty now, and Meijeong got the impression that they probably should find someplace else to talk. There were probably janitors and other staff waiting to close the place down for the night.

“What do you normally do after a show?” she asked Zen, “I don’t want to keep you if there’s somewhere you need to be…”

“No- I mean- well, I want to spend more time with you,” said Zen, blushing again and scratching his head, “Normally I just got back to my place and drink some beer, maybe smoke.”

“Ahhh, well…” Meijeong bit her lip and thought, “We could go get a drink somewhere. I’m not going to drink a lot but one or two wouldn’t be a bad way to end such a great evening.” She smiled.

“Yeah! That sounds great! I know a place nearby. Let me just put all this stuff back in the dressing room-”

“I don’t have the time or energy to talk you out of this,” said Jaehee, returning to the conversation with a sigh. “Apparently another article about Mr. Han and Sarah has been released. I’m going to stop at home to grab a change of clothes and then go back in to the office to deal with this.”

“Oh no, Jaehee…” Meijeong said, worried now.

“When are you going to sleep?” Zen scowled, “I can’t believe the trust fund kid is dumping all of his problems on you.”

“Don’t worry about it, I’ll manage.” Jaehee sighed again. Her face was so worn…

Meijeong frowned. “I’ll bring you lunch again tomorrow before I go to work. You have to eat.”

“Thank you,” Jaehee forced a smile. “I really have to go now…” She looked back and forth from Zen to Meijeong, clearly not happy about leaving the two of them alone together, but unable to find a way to stop it from happening. “Congratulations again Zen… Please be careful.”

“Thanks Jaehee,” said Zen. “Hang in there.”

“Bye, take care of yourself!” Meijeong added.

Quickly, Jaehee headed for the door, already dialing her phone and muttering the names of various reporters and news stations under her breath. Meijeong watched her with worry. The human body can only take so much… As soon as Jaehee was out of sight, Zen excused himself to run the gifts he received from fans back to the dressing room and grab his coat. The theater was uncomfortably quiet and empty for a moment. Something about the acoustics, even in a smaller side room like this one, made the silence deafening.

Soon though, Meijeong and Zen were walking outside. The area of town was quite busy and well lit, and the cold night air made their breath visible in the wind. Meijeong shoved her hands into the pockets and buried her chin into her scarf. Somehow, Zen looked perfectly comfortable despite the chill. As they walked to the nearby bar, Meijeong asked him about all the other actors, how the various special affects were achieved, all sorts of questions about how the theater worked. Zen enjoyed explaining it all, especially when he could brag about himself, and it made the time pass quickly.

The bar they arrived at was one Zen was somewhat familiar with- a smaller local place that served a pretty wide selection of beer. The atmosphere was nice- busy, but not crowded, full of people who seemed to at least know each other in passing, unusual for a bar in this part of the city. It reminded Meijeong a bit of the bookstore. The two made their way over to a small table in the corner.

“Do you like beer?” said Zen, folding his jacket and setting in on one the empty stools. “I can recommend a few good ones they only have here.”

“Mmm…” Meijeong took off her own jacket and set it on top of his before fixing the skirt of her blue dress so she could sit up on the high barstool. “I haven't found one I've enjoyed yet... Normally I go in for soju or sake, but I’ll try anything once.”

“Okay, if you want to try something new there’s something I know of that you might like. I’ll go get us some drinks then,” replied Zen, immediately turning to head to the bar. Halfway there, he stopped and turned around, rushing back over to Meijeong. “Hey, don’t ever let a guy get your drink like this, where you can’t watch him. I mean, obviously you don’t have to worry about me, but every other guy. Men are wolves.” He looked so serious for a second, and Meijeong rolled her eyes. 

“Thanks Big Sis,” she laughed, making Zen groan dramatically. “I trust you.”

Zen went back to the bar, looking a bit deflated, but when he returned with their drinks he was back to normal. He had a beer for himself, something foreign and dark, and two things for Meijeong- a small glass she could try the beer, and then soju if she didn’t like it. He politely set the drinks in front of her on the table before taking his own seat, hopping up onto the high barstool with much more ease than Meijeong. Zen went into the technical information of the beer before pouring some for her. 

“Yeah… uh,” Meijeong set the glass back down politely, grimacing and shaking her head. “I’ll stick with my usual.”

Zen laughed. “It’s not for everyone,” he said, taking a sip of his own, “That was a cute face you just made though.”

Meijeong stuck out her tongue in mock disgust before pouring her own drink, just taking a small sip for now.

“Do you go out for drinks often? I mean-“ Zen stammered, “I’m sure a lady doesn’t- I’m not saying you drink too much-“ He sighed and took a sip of his own beer to stop himself. “I probably drink more than I should as an actor, anyway. I’m not an alcoholic though.”

“I used to, but not in ages,” Meijeong said. She brushed a hair back. “My drinking buddy moved to America a while ago, so I haven’t really had occasion to…” She sighed and smiled wistfully, thinking back on old memories.

“Oh yeah?” Zen asked, leaning forward curiously. “Who was that?”

“Oh- yeah, I guess I never really told any of you about her. Uh, my best friend,” said Meijeong, taking another sip. She fiddled with the glass in her hands, looking down thoughtfully. “Subin. She moved to California almost two years ago and does work with computer graphic design in some little indie app company. She also dabbles in film and photography stuff on the side. You two would get along… “ She took another sip. “I miss her a lot.”

“That must be rough, lady,” said Zen, pursing his lips and frowning. “I’ve never really had a best friend, so I can only imagine but…”

“It’s not so bad. We see each other whenever we can, and send messages and pictures online.” Meijeong looked up at Zen and grinned, not wanting him to worry. “I’m really glad we met. It’s nice to have a drinking buddy again.”

“I’m glad too. Everything in the RFA has been so much better since you came,” Zen smiled and raised his glass. “To old friends and new drinking buddies.”

Meijeong felt a sudden surge of gratitude and warmth. Smiling, she clinked her small glass up against his beer and finished her drink.

“I still wish we had a date for the party though,” said Meijeong after a moment. “Not to sound like Yoosung, but it is kind of important.”

“I know what you mean… V will handle it though,” Zen said. “I trust him. Besides, either way, it’s nice to be able to see you.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong sighed, “I have still haven’t met Seven yet either. At this rate, I feel like I won’t ever see him until we finally have the party, and he's the one I wanted to meet the most…”

“Seven??” Zen’s eyes went wide. “Why?”

“Oh…” Meijeong suddenly felt warm. “I don’t know, ah… I don’t know why I said that.”

“You’re not drunk, are you?” said Zen, concerned. “Your face is all red all of a sudden. 

“No! I’m fine,” Meijeong stammered, and realized that was not going to make Zen think she was still sober. She wasn’t really sure why she got nervous in the first place anyway, so she took a deep breath and fiddled with her hair. “I just… I don’t know. I just hope I get to meet Seven soon, so that I’ve met all of you.”

“Seven’s not really the social type,” Zen eyed her and the bottle of soju closely, concerned. “I’ve only seen him outside the party maybe once or twice. He and Yoosung are closer, though; I know they’ve gone to see movies together." 

“Hmmm… maybe I’ll ask if the two of them want to go see that new Harry Potter movie with me sometime,” said Meijeong, feeling calmer now. What on earth was that all about, Meijeong? she thought to herself.

“You’re into that stuff too?” Zen said, surprised. “No wonder you get along so well with Seven." 

“I’m into everything,” Meijeong said, that blushed again realizing how it sounded. “Oh! God… that’s not what I meant… agghhh…”

This time, Zen looked flustered for a moment, but then he just laughed. “Be careful saying that in front of guys,” he said, half-teasing and half-serious. Meijeong just groaned and put her head on the table in defeat.

“Let’s change the subject,” she mumbled from on the table, before sitting up again. “How long do you think the run is going to be for this show?" 

Zen happily started going on the details of the show, the producers, and the plans that may or may not happen as far as show dates. They talked about the show for a while after that. Then the subject switched to nature and hiking, a place Zen knew about that he liked to ride his motorcycle to… Zen had another beer, and Meijeong told Zen more about growing up and Subin and the stuff they did together. Around them, the bar slowly started switching from the late crowd to the late-late crowd of a bit more intoxicated people who clearly knew each other all by name and had favorite seats at the bar. Eventually, Meijeong checked the time.

“Oh crap, it’s getting really late,” she said, and suddenly Zen looked worried.

“Are you okay to go home by yourself?” he said, checking his own phone.

“Yeah, I’ll just catch a cab, it’s not a big deal…” Meijeong opened the RFA app out of curiosity and checked the messages. “Oh no…”

“What?” said Zen, “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, check the chatroom,” said Meijeong, “Apparently Glam Choi and that Sarah woman showed up at Jaehee’s house and started questioning her about Jumin.”

“Wow…” Zen replied, scrolling through the messages on his own phone. “They’re really bold. How far are they going to push this? You’d think Jumin would have shut it down and gone back to obsessing over his cat already.”

“I think because his dad is involved too…” Meijeong sighed. “Either way, it’s more work for Jaehee.”

“Yeah...”

The two started getting ready to head back to their respective homes. There was a brief verbal scuffle over the bill, but Zen ended up convincing Meijeong to let him pay for the drinks by promising she could pay for them next time. Meijeong wasn’t sure that she believed him on that, but she didn’t push the issue. Outside, the air was still cold, and even though Meijeong felt pleasantly warm from the drinks, she wrapped the scarf close and waved down a taxi.

“Goodnight Zen,” she said as the car pulled over to the side. “Let’s do this again soon.”

“Definitely,” he replied, opening the door for her. He smiled. “Let me know that you got home safely.”

“Same to you,” Meijeong replied as she got into the cab.

Zen shut the door behind her and waved. After telling the address to the driver, Meijeong turned and waved back as the cab drove away. She smiled and realized that the warm feeling wasn’t just from the drinks. Hanging out with Zen was different than hanging out with Jaehee or Yoosung or Jumin. Not that they weren’t her friends too, but, well, it was like she told Zen. It was nice to have a drinking buddy again, and she was pleasantly surprised at how well Zen fit that role.

Another pleasant surprise awaited Meijeong back at the apartment. When she had finished showering and check the RFA messenger, Seven and V were there.

 

707: Meijeong, hiya lol

MC: Hey, Seven! Working till late? T_T

707: Yup, lol

707: Had a hard time focusing today. Lol

707: But if I don’t work now, it’ll be hell tmr T_T

707: I’d have to ask V about something though too…

707: Maybe if I do this…

707: Accio V!!

V has entered the chatroom.

707: He’ll come up?

V: Luciel.

MC: …yer a wizard, Seven?

707: Wow!!

V: You were here too, Meijeong.

MC: Amazing timing, V.

 

V had heard how nervous people were getting over the party date (especially Yoosung) and wanted to come and give an update. The plan, for now, was to once again hold a Christmas fundraising event first, to truly gauge interest for the RFA Party proper and see when and how big it would need to be, as well as ease Meijeong into the party planning process a bit. The Christmas events were apparently one of Rika’s favorites, and they hadn’t had one since before the last party. Meijeong was excited. Christmas was only a month and a half away, but according to V and Seven, the small size of the event meant it wouldn’t be too difficult to pull off.

V then explained that he was going on another trip and started running through details with Seven. Didn’t you just return from one…? Meijeong thought, but didn’t say anything. It seemed like this was pretty common for V since Rika’s death, and it was how he got his photography work done. What did feel strange was consulting a hacker about a trip’s safety, but… well Meijeong really didn’t know much about where V was going, so maybe it was a necessary precaution. It felt strange, though, when V suddenly started thanking her and Seven for all the work they did.

There was something about V… Meijeong was starting to see why Yoosung felt V was hiding things, but she didn’t think that was V’s intention either. It just came across that way, and Meijeong suspected that perhaps the only thing V was hiding was still being in pain from losing Rika.

 

707: But why are you suddenly saying thank you…?

707: You’re making me blush, lolol

707: Anyways, take care of yourself.

V: Okay.

V: I’ll be in touch.

V: I’ll be at the event and the party for sure, so don’t worry.

707: Yup. You have to!

707: We finally got everything together.

707: Everyone has to be there.

707: Everyone!

707: Everyone will

707: be there!

V: Alright.

 

The conversation turned for a minute to V’s cell phone. Apparently, Seven had set it up so that it could alert someone if the call was being bugged. Meijeong thought that might be a bit excessive, but that was probably just something hackers thought about all the time. V had to leave soon after that, and the conversation turned back to the Christmas fundraising event.

 

MC: I think everything will be fine with you here!

707: Yup!

707: I’ll help

707: so that we can all have fun. Lol

707: >_<

707: Christmas tho…

707: >.<

MC: I’m glad my family doesn’t really do things for Christmas anymore

MC: I’d feel bad missing one thing for the other

MC: But we all just meet for new years

707: Yes!

707: Family is important

707:

707: I should…

707: get going too~

707: U should go to bed before it gets too late.

707: If u follow me and eat Honey Buddha Chips all the time and sleep late,

707: ur life will get much shorter. lol

MC: Yup lol

MC: You need to take care of yourself too.

MC: We need you ^^

707: gah

707:

707: >.<

707: Yup. Trust me. Lol

707: Then see u later!

MC: Night God Seven!

707: Laterz

707 has left the chatroom. 

Unknown: Sae--__you*__rayed?-0*

Unknown: Is&__-#fun-__@

Unknown:

Unknown: You^_ando%-#--?

Unknown: .

Unknown: -----------@@

Unknown: Traitor

 

Disturbed, Meijeong immediately sent Seven a private message to check the messenger. But when she opened the chatroom again, the strange text was gone, and the creeping feeling on the back of her neck was back. She shuddered. Maybe it was just a glitch. Seven was the only one who would know for sure, but... the last line of the hacker's text was unsettling, and suddenly the theory that Unknown was someone helping on behalf of Rika felt a lot less likely...

Chapter Text

Seven hadn’t replied to Meijeong’s message and didn’t answer when she called. Normally, this would be, well, normal. The times when Seven could be reached were always completely random due to his choice of career and sleeping schedule. And of course, normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but right now, Meijeong was alone in the middle of the night, looking at the empty space in the messenger where the word “traitor” had recently been written in bold print with no explanation by a mysterious hacker whose motives were starting to feel a little more sinister than before. Alone… at night… in the apartment that said sinister hacker had led her to… Meijeong wanted to shake the creeping dread away and go to sleep, but she couldn’t. So instead, she got up and turned on all the lights in the house and turned on some music, singing along and talking to herself as she made some tea.

“I’m over-thinking this… definitely not something to be worried about…” she turned on the kettle and leaned back against the kitchen counter, her arms wrapped around herself. “Who the hell am I kidding? There’s no way this isn’t a problem… Shit… shitshitshit.”

Meijeong stared at the door to the apartment and for the first time in a long while found herself vaguely regretting the decision to move in here. The door didn’t even have a mechanical lock, just the electronic one that the hacker had given her the code too… She sighed and checked the RFA app again. No Seven. A silly, stupid idea occurred to her, and she nervously laughed out loud. Meijeong dug out a small scrap of paper and a pen and began writing something down, narrating as she did.

“Hey Seven… if you have time to check this… then you need to… check your… messages,” Meijeong wrote in small print, grinning. For a moment, she debating changing it to “Help me Seven-Wan Kenobi, You’re My Only Hope” but decided that made the situation seem more urgent but less serious that it was. Next, she grabbed a piece of tape and a chair, then fumbled with them all out into the hallway to the closest CCTV camera, moving quietly, but giggling like a fool from nerves.

“Pfff… this is so stupid, I don’t even care,” Meijeong whispered to herself, giggling as she eyed up the angle of the camera. “He probably never even looks at these… whatever, I need a distraction.” She decided on a spot on the wall, high enough to probably go unnoticed by anyone walking the halls but still clearly visible and (she hoped) legible from the camera, and taped her message in place. “Tah-Dah!” she exclaimed in a hushed sort of cheer, stepping back to admire her handiwork. “I’m saved!”

By the time she carried everything back into the apartment, the tea was hot and her nerves had settled a bit from indulging in some silliness. Meijeong sang along to the music to chase the last of the fear away. After a hot shower, she changed into her pajamas and curled up in bed, reading through a few RFA emails and eventually, she was able to fall asleep... before waking up again after only a few hours, more nervous than she realized. The first thing Meijeong did was roll over in bed and grab her phone. She brushed her messy, bed-head hair out of her eyes and opened the RFA messenger. Thankfully, Seven was there now.

 

MC: hey Seven!

707: hiya hey hey

707: I got your messages

707: lololol

707: What’s with the security camera?

MC: ahaha

MC: It seemed like a fun idea at the time.

707: lol it was fun

MC: I didn’t know you checked those things regularly

707: yep

707: safety is important

707: God Seven has to be vigilant in protecting his devoted and cute believer!

MC: cute?

707: Yes!

707:

707: ><

MC: lol you’re cute

707: GAH

707: don’t say that >_<

MC: lol

MC: but anyway

MC: Unknown was back.

MC: and it was…

MC: really creepy

707: GAH

707: what??

707: …

MC: yeah…

MC: most of it was gibberish

MC: I couldn’t understand it

MC: except the word ‘traitor’

707: XoX!?

707: that is creepy

707: ...

707: the messenger

707: WAS HACKED

707: for

707: sure

707:

707: I just checked the logs

MC: So what do we do?

707: uhmm….

707: well

707: I’ll start tracing it

707: and contact V

707: until then

707: it might not be a bad idea for everyone to be careful for a bit

MC: be careful?

MC: how so?

707: we should see if Jumin could provide everyone with body guards, just to be safe

MC: body guards??

MC: is it that serious?

ZEN has entered the chatroom.

707: probably not

707: but it can’t hurt to be careful

707: T_T

MC: Zen!

707: I already had so much work to do for the agency… T_T

MC: What are you doing up? Don’t you have another show today?

ZEN: Gahh~

ZEN: So tired.

ZEN: ;; Got dark circles ;;

MC: Go back to sleep!

MC: It’s still so early ;;

707: Ya

707: don’t stay up all night like me

707: T_T

ZEN: But now that I have them,

ZEN: I look even more like an obsessive freak lol

ZEN: So maybe that will work for the role

MC: You still need rest to perform

MC: I’m sure the dark circles can be drawn in if you really like them that much ^^;

ZEN: I don’t know if I can fall back asleep anyway

ZEN: I had this weird dream… I woke up in the middle of it.

MC: Oh… that’s the worst

MC: :(

707: Ya

707: T_T

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: It was too weird

ZEN: wait…

ZEN: the messenger was hacked again?

ZEN: by that Unknown dude??

707: I’m sorry T_T

MC: It’s not your fault Seven

707: -3- ;;

707: And now I have more work…

ZEN: and body guards…

ZEN: now I’m really freaked out

MC: why, what was your dream about?

ZEN: I saw a woman crying after seeing my face

MC: A woman??

707: o_O??

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: HUh?

ZEN: Wait.

ZEN: OMG

ZEN: OnO !!

ZEN:

707: GAH

707: what what what

MC: What is it??

ZEN: What the hell did I just type right now??

ZEN: I just called that furball a woman;;

ZEN: No way.

ZEN: <_< …

MC: Wait

MC: You mean Elizabeth the 3rd?

707: Elly?

707: o_O ??

ZEN: It’s all that jerks fault!;;

MC: lololol

MC: If Elizabeth was in your dream

MC: that must mean you secretly like cats

MC: lol

ZEN: No, I don’t!!

ZEN: It did appear in my dream but I don’t like cats!!

707: lolololololol

ZEN: ;; Just thinking about it makes my nose itch … -__-;;

707: Zen’s dreaming about Elly?

707: Maybe I planned the cat wedding for the wrong person?

MC: lololol

ZEN: NO!!

ZEN: In my dream

ZEN: that furball was crying in front of a huge building in the middle of the mountains.

MC: ??

707: o_O??

ZEN: I wasn’t planning on telling anyone, but it felt too real;;

ZEN: I felt weirded out when I woke up

ZEN: It was so strange.

ZEN: so I came here to warn Jumin…

MC: Warn him??

707: lol

ZEN: I mean, I usually don’t believe in dreams or superstitions

ZEN: but…

ZEN: sometimes my dreams happen in real life

MC:

707:

707: lolololol

MC: that kind of stuff doesn’t actually happen in real life though… right?

707: Nah

707: Dreams are just dreams

ZEN: I don’t really believe in it either

ZEN: But

ZEN: Now that it’s happened a couple times

ZEN: I can’t help but believe it;;

ZEN: When I dreamed about the girl I had a crush on getting hurt

ZEN: or messing up my audition

ZEN: or seeing a huge poster of my face on the streets… at one point or another they all happened in reality.

MC: Wow…

707: lolololol

707: My friend Tom’s uncle has prophetic dreams

707: We should invite him to the party so you can compare notes

MC: uhhhh…

MC: anyway…

MC: So you think Elizabeth the 3rd is going to come see you?

707: lol get some allergy meds

ZEN: No ;;

ZEN: The furball wasn’t at Jumin’s house

ZEN: or anywhere I recognized

ZEN: It was in the middle of the mountains…

ZEN: somewhere really deep into the woods.

ZEN: It was like a castle or giant mansion

MC: Weird

707: Ya

ZEN: Anyway

ZEN: the furball was wandering around there,

ZEN: looking really sad…

ZEN: then it took off running towards the building

ZEN: I felt really depressed when I woke up

MC: that is sad…

707: T_T

707: my poor Elly ;;

707: T.T

ZEN: U_U///

ZEN: I mean, you don’t have to believe me but…

MC: I don’t know what to believe

MC: But you’re saying all of this just in case because you don’t want Jumin to lose Elizabeth, right?

MC: That’s really kind of you

707: Ya

707: Who knew Zen had such a soft spot for Jumin?

ZEN: I DON’T

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: Don’t even say that

ZEN: it just that it never hurts to be careful

ZEN: and I don’t want to see him all sad and depressed

ZEN: … that doesn’t suit that dude.

ZEN: <_< …

707: what’s the word

707: Zen’s feelings are a love-hate relationship…?

MC: tsundere?

ZEN: NO

ZEN: >_<

ZEN: I’m serious

707: lololololol

707: yeah that’s the word

707: ^^

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: you guys…

ZEN: my nose is all itchy

ZEN: who knew I could get an allergic reaction from a dream? ;;

MC: I think that’s called the placebo affect lol

707: lololol yep

ZEN: <_< …

ZEN: Anyway

ZEN: When I woke up

ZEN: I couldn’t help but think of those women

ZEN: Glam Choi and Sarah

MC: Wait…

MC: you mean like they might try and kidnap Elizabeth the 3rd?

707: GAH

707: NO

707: Elly… T_T

ZEN: yeah… I mean

ZEN: what if they try and use the furball to force Jumin to marry her?

MC: Normally I’d say that’s ridiculous

MC: but anymore… it’s probably possible

MC: everything about that situation is ridiculous

707: ya

707: everyone knows how much Jumin loves Elly

707: they could use that against him

MC: how could they possibly get a hold of her though?

MC: I’ve been there

MC: security is tight

707: Sarah already got in once because she knows Mr. Chairman

ZEN: yeah;;

ZEN: he should beef up his security just in case

MC: Well, if everyone’s already being a little more cautious because of the hacker

MC: then that should be enough right?

ZEN: yeah… the hacker

ZEN: why on earth would someone hack us like that again?

MC: I dunno

MC: I feel strange…

MC: the hacker is the one who brought me to this apartment

MC: It just feels weird

707: Yeah

707: I don’t know either T_T

ZEN: but with Seven hacking skills

ZEN: and the trust fund kids body guards

ZEN: We should be fine

MC: that’s true

707: there’s just one problem

MC: ??

707: Meijeong’s location is still a secret

707: So Jumin can’t send his bodyguards there to watch over her

707: T_T

MC: oh.

ZEN: oh yeah…

MC: I mean

MC: You’re got all those security cameras

MC: and maybe I’ll talk to my boss so I’m not working any evening shifts so I don’t have to walk home in the dark…

ZEN: I don’t know…

ZEN: Is that enough?

ZEN: Can’t we ask V to declassify the apartment location?

707: I’ll ask but…

MC: I should be fine

MC: its not like the hacker has done anything in person

707: don’t underestimate hackers

707: I’ll start video monitoring your movements more closely

MC: uh, how are you going to do that?

707: there are security cameras everywhere that I can borrow

MC: you mean hack lol

707: that’s the best I can do for now T_T

MC: Seven… do you even have time for that?

MC: I don’t want you to get overworked like Jaehee because of me

MC: I’ll probably be fine ^^

ZEN: I don’t know… I’d feel a lot better if you had body guards too

707: me too

707: but we don’t have a lot of options

MC: Seriously, don’t worry about me

MC: I trust Seven ^^

707: oh!

707: that feels nice

707: <3 I’ll work extra hard for you! <3 <3

MC: The point is I don’t want you to have to work extra hard because of me… T_T

MC: But thank you God Seven

707: ur welcome ^^

ZEN: sigh…

ZEN: well if you’re okay with it then I guess I have to be too

ZEN: U_U ///

MC: It’ll be okay!

707: ya

707: it’ll be okay!

707: I’ll talk to V and Jumin

707: and make sure everyone is safe!

ZEN: yeah…

ZEN: I should go

ZEN: I need to try and get so rest

ZEN: bye

MC: bye Zen!

707: bye!

ZEN has left the chatroom.

707: yeah

707: I should get back to work

MC: I’m going to make sure I have enough food to make sure Jaehee gets enough to eat MC: I have a feeling things are about to get even harder for her

MC: Seven, are you going to be okay? I could make something for you too

707: you

707: are

707: an

707: angel

707: but I’ll be okay

707: I have plenty of Honey Buddha Chips

MC: lolol fine

MC: just make sure you take care of yourself while you’re taking care of everyone else

707: okay ^^

707: I will!

707: bye!

MC: bye!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

“I’m here for Chief Assistant Jaehee Kang,” Meijeong said to the desk secretary at the C&R Building, holding another box lunch, “I know she’s probably too busy to see me, I just want to leave this for her.”

“Actually, Miss Chen…” the secretary knew her face now, which helped Meijeong feel a little less overwhelmed by the formality and splendor of the offices, “Assistant Kang has not arrived at the office yet today.”

“What? Really?” Meijeong looked up at the massive modern clock that hung above the desk on the wall, “That’s… strange.”

“I believe she was seeing to matters with Director Han outside of the office…" 

“Meijeong! Hello,” Jaehee’s familiar voice called out from behind Meijeong.

“Jaehee, hi!” Meijeong said, smiling. “How are things?”

“Not well…”

Meijeong noticed a pair of muscular men wearing suits, sunglasses, and earpieces following closely behind Jaehee. They stopped just a bit away, close enough to immediately respond to a situation but far enough to not intrude… Meijeong guessed that’s what professional bodyguards working for the rich and famous learned to do.

“I guess you got Seven’s message about the body guards…” Meijeong said. She held out the box lunch, which Jaehee gratefully accepted. “I’m sorry, that must mean more trouble for you.”

“Increased security is necessary from time to time. That’s not a problem.” Jaehee sighed, rubbing the bridge of the nose where her glasses sat. “The problem is Mr. Han has decided to take today off and is not coming into the office at all.”

“What!? Why?” Meijeong exclaimed, much louder than she meant to be. She winced and looked around, embarrassed.

“I do not want to speculate, but…” Jaehee frowned, and spoke more quietly, taking a step closer to Meijeong, “He did seem overly concerned about Elizabeth the 3rd…”

“Zen’s dream…” Meijeong sighed, “You don’t think Jumin took it seriously?” She bit her lip and frowned.

“It’s hard to say…” Jaehee looked up at the clock. Her eyes twitched and her whole body slumped. “I wish I could stay and chat, but I now have to change the strategy for several meetings that he will not be present for…” Jaehee rubbed the bridge of her nose again, pinching it before fixing her glasses and standing up straight.

“Hang in there, Jaehee,” Meijeong said, reaching out and patting her shoulder reassuringly.

Jaehee smiled weakly, and then sighed again. “I will. Thank you so much for the lunches. You’re a life saver, Meijeong.”

“Bye...”

“Goodbye.”

Face creased with worry as she walked out of the C&R building, Meijeong half-debated calling Jumin herself to find out what the issue was. Obviously, Jumin hadn’t been himself lately. He barely came into the chatroom, and when he did, he was extremely emotional about family (well, extremely emotional by Jumin’s normal standards). But according to Jaehee his performance at work had been almost unnervingly perfect, to the point of completely abandoning his usual cat-related projects. Meijeong pulled her coat tighter and sighed, heading for the subway station. It wasn’t that cold, but the wind was blowing, strong enough to annoyingly pushing her long hair into her face and eyes.

I wonder if the others have their bodyguards already… She wondered as she swiped her pass and got onto the train. Meijeong had discovered that it wasn’t a long trip from Jumin’s office to the bookshop by subway, which is part of why she was so eager to make sure Jaehee had enough to eat; still Meijeong pulled out her headphones and listened to music, enjoying a few minutes of peace amongst all the recent craziness. Opening the book she had brought with her (A Wrinkle in Time), Meijeong tried to focus on that to relax for a bit. She wasn’t looking forward to asking Mr. Park to change her work schedule around right before the holiday season… she felt awful about inconveniencing him like that when he relied on her to work evenings many days. It was why she hadn’t tried to change her shift today. Hopefully, Seven would figure whether or not they needed to be worried about the hacker soon.

They were so busy that Meijeong didn’t have the heart to ask Mr. Park about changing her schedule that afternoon. Even if Sun-mi was able to work extra hours, it would still put a lot of pressure on him unless he hired more people. Over her break, Meijeong checked her phone, hoping that Seven had miraculously solved the hacker problem in less than a day and instead found three missed phone calls and eight private messages from the RFA members. Yoosung, Zen, and Jumin had all tried to call her and sent messages, Seven just sent a few quick text reminders about safety, and Jaehee and had thanked her again and expressed concern about whether Meijeong was really okay without body guards. She was about to start responding to them all when Yoosung called again.

“Hey Yoosung,” Meijeong answered, “Sorry, I’m at work and I couldn’t pick up right away.”

“Oh right! Sorry…” Yoosung sounded embarrassed, “I forgot. I was just so worried when I read the messenger! Are you really okay?”

“Yeah, of course,” she said, smiling. “Are you okay? Did Jumin’s body guards show up?” She took a bite of her sandwich, careful not to chew directly into the phone, and listened as Yoosung became excited. 

“Oh right! You won’t believe this,” he said, “I was at lunch and all of a sudden this man in a suit came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder! I turned around he suddenly said, in this real deep voice-“ Yoosung attempted to imitate the voice, but Meijeong thought perhaps he might have been missing the mark- “Are you Yoosung Kim?”

“Wow, that’s intense,” she replied, smiling at his attempt and picking at her food. 

“Yeah, I was really shocked,” said Yoosung, “The security guards Jumin sent, they look really reliable! And they’ve been following me around all day. People are starting to think I’m a celebrity.”

Meijeong laughed. “Really? That must be awkward,” she said, “I’d be kind of embarrassed by the attention.”

“Mmm… I guess,” said Yoosung, laughing a little, “I kind of thought it was cool.”

“Well, then enjoy it while you can, celebrity boy,” Meijeong laughed harder now, but not to make fun of him. “I’m glad it’s at least exciting for you. For me it’s just been business as usual so far.

“Oh right,” Yoosung sounded worried now. “I feel bad that you’re left without any body guards. I mean, I trust Seven, but still…”

“I’ll just have to visit you at school again and borrow yours for a day,” Meijeong joked.

“That’s a good idea!” Yoosung exclaimed, clearly excited. “Oh, but… you probably have work though. We could always meet up for coffee again though. Just not on Tuesdays, that’s when the pottery club meets.”

“Pottery club?” Meijeong bit her lip, “Yoosung… what happened to the coffee club?”

“I actually quit that club…” Yoosung sounded embarrassed again, “I change clubs a lot. The only thing I can seem to stick with is LOLOL.”

“Yeah?” Meijeong frowned, “What’s your major, anyway? I don’t think you ever told me?”

“Uh… well,” Yoosung paused, “I don’t think I’ve told anyone, actually. Can you guess?”

Meijeong looked up at the clock and realized her break was going by faster than she thought. “I only have time for one guess before I go back to work, so uh… something with computers?”

Yoosung laughed, but Meijeong thought it sounded a bit strange. “Nope! Maybe I’ll tell you next time I see you,” he said. “Have fun at work!”

“Yep, bye!” Meijeong hung up the phone and started woofing down the rest of her food quickly. The store was busy today that she hadn’t wanted to leave Mr. Park alone for more that a few minutes. She almost plowed into Aslan on her way back to the storefront. He meowed in a loud, screeching sort of way that showed his disapproval.

“Sorry kitten, but you do get underfoot,” she retorted, rolling her eyes at the grumpy ginger cat. 

Aslan replied with another irritable meow before following her out into the store and climbing up onto one of the higher bookshelves. He lorded over the store for the rest of the night. He watched the customers and Meijeong and Mr. Park alike, staring down like the God-Cat he was, refusing to come down even after the store was closed. As she put away books in the quiet of the empty store, Meijeong finally caved in to his pouting and gave him a few treats as an apology. As Aslan leapt down to be petted-

“He’s going to get fat if you girls keep spoiling him,” said Mr. Park suddenly from behind her, making Meijeong jump. He laughed as his joke, but then his old grey eyes grew wide with concern at her nervousness. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, sorry,” Meijeong said, forcing a grin, “I was just lost in thought and didn’t hear you, that’s all.”

“I understand. Book stores are easy places to get lost in thought,” he replied. Mr. Park shuffled over to the register and grabbed a box of books that needed to be moved to a backroom. Despite how slowly he moved, he was still quite strong, and Meijeong had gotten good at gauging whether or not she should offer him help with carrying things over the past year.

When he returned to the front of the store, Meijeong tried to force herself to ask about changing her schedule. But as time passed, and they finished working, she couldn’t bring herself to say anything. Mr. Park needed her to be reliable. She wasn’t going to let some hacker hiding behind a screen stop her from being there when he needed her… so…

“Bye, Mr. Park!” Meijeong waved and headed out into the dark to walk home. Mr. Park waved back, Aslan in one arm, before locking the door behind her.

Even though it was cold, the streets were still reasonably populated, just as they were any other night. Here, now, on a trip that she had walked hundreds of times, Meijeong really didn’t think she needed to be worried about being without bodyguards. Things felt so normal. There was none of that prickly feeling from last night making her uneasy. Meijeong shoved her hands deeper into her jacket pockets and hummed a little melody. The wind was still blowing, but she had remembered to pull her hair back so that at least most of it stayed out of her eyes.

Ring! Ring Ring! Ring!

While she stood waiting for the crosswalk light to change, Meijeong’s phone had started ringing. She dug in out of her pocket and saw that Seven was calling.

“Heya Seven,” Meijeong answered. 

“You’re just getting off work now.” Seven stated quickly, sounding much more distracted than Meijeong had ever heard him. “I thought you were going to change your shifts.”

“I was, but…” Meijeong sighed and bit her lip, “Mr. Park really needs me to have complete availability right now with the holidays coming up in less than two months. I don’t want to worry him.”

“You’re too nice,” said Seven, “That’s dangerous right now.”

“I’m not going to stop living my life normally just because a hacker might be following me,” Meijeong argued, crossing the street quickly. She frowned. “Speaking of which, how did you know I was leaving work now?”

“I’m watching you on the traffic and security cameras,” Seven said flatly, but then his voice cracked and he stammered, “I don’t do that normally! It’s just because of the hacker situation. Nothing creepy! I just… don’t want to see anything happen to you… if you were to get hurt because I wasn’t…” His voice grew soft and trailed off at the end of the sentence, and for some reason, Meijeong felt her face flush.

“Sorry…” Meijeong reassured him as best she could. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I can call you when I’m walking home? If that’ll help?” She brushed her hair back, only to have the stray pieces immediately blow back into her face because of the wind.

“I mean… I wouldn’t mind that,” Seven said. “I’d feel better just hearing your voice. Then I could focus on my work.”

“Okay, God Seven,” Meijeong smiled, “If I call you while I walk home, then you won’t try and tell me not to work when I need to.”

“Gaaaahhhh…” Seven groaned, “I’m an idiot, but I can’t stop you so… fine.”

“Cheer up! It’ll be okay!”

Seven groaned again. Meijeong heard him muttering quietly to himself, too muffled for her to make out the words. Faintly, she could hear the sound of rapid typing on a keyboard. She turned down another street, only a few more blocks to the apartment.

“Seveeennn,” Meijeong teased, trying to get a laugh out of him, “Don’t be a grumpy kitty, meow~ Tell me about your day. I’m almost home meow~.”

“Gahh… You’re impossible…” he said, but Meijeong thought he sounded a little more cheerful. “I actually had a strange dream today meow~ Can I tell you about it?”

“Of course meow~,” Meijeong laughed. “What was it about?”

“Mmmm, well… I had a really strange dream where I was a real cat. Meow~” said Seven. His tone was lighter now, almost wistful. “But mommy cat didn’t give me food so brother kitty and I escaped. We passed through walls, rivers, mountains, oceans, and then landed in a pirate ship!”

“Pirates! I always wanted to be a pirate when I was a kid,” Meijeong said, smiling softly, “Although the first part was sad…”

“Maybe, That’s when I woke up meow~” Seven sighed, “And when I did, my hands were curled just like a cats meow~”

“Awww...” said Meijeong, switching her own hands so that the one that had been holding the phone in the cold air could take a turn warming up in her pocket. “Are you still a kitty now?”

“Nope meow. I don’t know why I keep saying meow after every sentence meow,” Seven chuckled then stammered dramatically, faking terror. “It-it’s a curse meow! I have the cat’s curse meow!”

“Oh no! How I can I help break the curse?” Meijeong bit her lip, grinning. “You’ll get in trouble if you’re stuck with cat’s paws. How will you do your work?”

“Work… Work? Uh… uhm…” Seven whined and groaned, and Meijeong giggled. “I feel energy draining out… Seven Cat… Don’t go! No…”

“Poor Seven Cat.” Meijeong teased, “Now it’s just God Seven.” She had arrived at the door to the apartment building and buzzed herself in. It was nice to be out of the cold. Unwrapping hers scarf, she found herself thinking fondly of a cup of hot tea as she got into the elevator.

“Yep. 707 has returned. I was glad to have been a cat, even for a short while,” he sighed, “You’re back at the apartment now, right? I can see it on the cameras.”

“I’m in the elevator,” Meijeong said, fixing her windswept hair and shuddering, shaking away the cold air. “Wait til I get to there, I’ll-“

“Wave to the camera?” Seven chuckled.

“You knew about that?” Meijeong groaned, surprised and a tiny embarrassed. “I guess you look at those cameras more than I thought.”

“It’s God Seven’s duty to protect you,” Seven said mock-seriously. “And also I was watching for signs of you being followed by anyone who might be the hacker.”

“Oh,” Meijeong replied, stepping off the elevator, “Right.” She walked down the now familiar hallway, with a little more spring to her step than usual. When she turned the corner, there was the final security camera.

“Aha!” exclaimed Seven. “Target sighted!”

Meijeong did her cutest wave at the camera and winked, playing along to the game, but she couldn’t keep her composure. She snorted and then started laughing to so hard that she doubled over, caught up in silliness and giggles.

“Gah! Critical hit!” To her surprise, Seven actually sounded out of breath too. “Too cute! Ahh…”

“Are you okay?” Meijeong said, catching her breath as she opened the apartment door.

“Ah… gah…” Seven stammered. “Yes? No? Yes? Agh…” There was a long pause, oddly silent on his end of the line, not even the sound of typing.

“Seven?” Meijeong frowned, her forehead creased with worry.

“Ahhh… I have to get back to work,” he said, muttering to himself more than speaking to her. “I have a lot of work to do for the agency, and the hacker…”

“Alright,” Meijeong replied cheerfully. She set her jacket over the back of a chair and turned on the electric kettle. “Til my next walk home then, bye!”

“Ah…” Seven perked up then and sounded more like his normal self. “See you later, adios!”

For the rest of the night, Meijeong couldn’t stop smiling. Curled up on the couch with her tea, she checked the emails for the RFA and started sending out messages to interested parties, for the first time able to give them a date to look forward to. Hacker or no hacker, things with the RFA seemed to be heading in the right direction, and Meijeong found a new sort of energy in it all.

 

Two days later, however, things with Jumin had taken a turn for the worse. He had refused to come in to work since Zen had spoken of his dream about Elizabeth. Now, he hadn’t left his penthouse almost three days, and was only coming in to the chatroom to “write in his diary” as Zen and Seven put it. Meijeong was able to get him to open up about some of it, but…

“I don’t have anyone to confide in when I feel nervous, so I tend to find my own solutions…” Jumin sighed. “It’s not like me to call you…” 

“Jumin, it’s fine,” Meijeong said, holding the phone with one hand and carrying a shopping basket down the aisle of the grocery store with the other. “I know you’re going through a hard time right now, and it’s my day off. I don’t mind listening as much as you need.”

“Thank you… Talking to you feels quite strange, but interesting,” said Jumin. “Do you have a lot of friends?”

“Not many,” Meijeong answered truthfully, but then she paused to think about. “I guess I have more now, since I’ve joined the RFA, but… other than you guys, there’s really only one or two other people I consider real friends.” 

“Just like me,” said Jumin thoughtfully. “There are people who have hundreds of superficial friends… but one friend who can tell what you’re thinking just by looking at your eyes is worth a hundred times more.” 

“That’s true,” said Meijeong, looking through the produce, picking up the carrots to check how fresh they were. She was almost out of groceries at home, since she was making meals for both herself and Jaehee at the moment. She also promised Yoosung she’d bring him something on her day off later this week when she came to visit and ‘borrow’ his security guards while they hung out. 

“I had two of those friends…but I can’t reach either of them at this moment,” Jumin seemed to constantly be a state of quiet frustration when he called Meijeong, and she couldn’t blame him.

“You still can’t reach V?” she said, frowning. Meijeong thought she had a guess who the other friend was, but… now didn’t seem like a good time to bring up Rika. Jumin had enough emotions to deal with as it was.

“No. I used believe I didn’t need anyone to rely on. So…” Jumin paused and Meijeong wondered if he was going to continue with his thoughts at all for a moment. But then- “I thought I could live my life with just one creature who always accept me, even if I couldn’t truly rely on it like a person. I thought it was enough that Elizabeth the 3rd accepted me…” He sighed, “But recently, it occurred to me that humans are creatures who can’t live on their own." 

“Of course not,” Meijeong said, smiling sadly. Jumin seemed so smart, so together, and yet, there were things that seemed so simple to her that came so difficultly to him. “No man is an island." 

“John Donne,” replied Jumin. “I’ve read the poem, but I don’t think I really understood it’s meaning until recently. And… I was always nervous… that the loneliness inside of me would pile up and explode some day.”

“Jumin…” Meijeong set her basket down so she could switch hands and leaned into the phone to speak clearly. “There are good people who are willing to accept you. I’ll accept you. You have people who care about you, who want to know the real you. You don’t have to feel so lonely.”

“I’m happy to hear that. But…” he sighed. “I don’t know. When I’m not talking with you I feel…” Suddenly, Jumin’s voice went from wistful and uncertain to flat and serious. “Oh, what am I saying? I can’t believe I’m sharing my worries… Talking with you makes me act strange. I should stop.”

“Talking about your feelings with a friend isn’t strange, Jumin! I know it feels that way for you but-“

“I have to go check on Elizabeth the 3rd now. Excuse me.”

He hung up the phone before she could say anything else. Meijeong was worried that pretty soon there was going to be nothing she or anyone else could do to keep him from imploding. He seemed so fragile that any additional stress might cause him to break, and with Sarah and Glam Choi still trying to force a marriage and his father blindly playing right into their hands, that additional stress could come at any time…

When Meijeong got home and started putting the groceries away, she opened the RFA messenger and found Jaehee there.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: God…

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong, you’re here.

Jaehee Kang: I just came back from Mr. Han’s home. Thankfully he was there.

MC: I talked to him on the phone a bit ago…

MC: He didn’t sound well… How did he look?

Jaehee Kang: I can’t explain the details…

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han is having a difficult time from the recent events, which is very unlike him.

Jaehee Kang: So much so that he cannot even work.

Jaehee Kang: I did tell him that he should take a break, but I don’t know if that will help much.

Jaehee Kang: It felt as if… a deeply rooted problem just exploded.

MC: Yeah

MC: I got that impression too

Jaehee Kang: Since Mr. Han hasn’t been coming to work, the company will end up in trouble before long

Jaehee Kang: but I’m more worried that Glam Choi might plan something in the meantime.

Jaehee Kang: One person’s ruin can be another’s opportunity.

MC: I was worried about that too

Jaehee Kang: He… talked about having these tangled threads inside his mind,

Jaehee Kang: and to be honest, I couldn’t understand what he meant.

Jaehee Kang: Perhaps… you might be able to understand

Jaehee Kang: You always seem to get him better than the rest of us.

MC: I’ve tried talking to him

MC: But at this point, I don’t know what more I can do

Jaehee Kang: I was just about to bring that up.

Jaehee Kang: I’m sorry to ask this of you so suddenly,

Jaehee Kang: I talked with Luciel about whether or not you can leave the apartment… with the situation with the hacker

MC: I’ve been leaving to go to work and run errands but…

MC: Seven’s so stressed out too

MC: Are you thinking I should go to Jumin’s?

MC: That way I can try and help Jumin relax

MC: and Seven won’t have to worry about me not having bodyguards, for a little while anyway

Jaehee Kang: Yes… that’s what I was thinking

Jaehee Kang: You’ve talked with Mr. Han enough that you know

Jaehee Kang: that he’s not the type of person to just ditch work and hide.

Jaehee Kang: I’ve never seen him so vulnerable.

Jaehee Kang: And the situation with Elizabeth…

MC: Does he really think Glam Choi might try and kidnap her?

Jaehee Kang: Yes.

Jaehee Kang: That’s definitely part of why he is so upset

Jaehee Kang: I can’t explain right now

Jaehee Kang: It would be best if you saw for yourself…

MC: Well

MC: At least if I’m there with Elizabeth, he might feel safe enough to go to work

MC: I can protect her without being manipulated by Glam Choi’s relationship with the Chairman

Jaehee Kang: That was my thinking as well.

Jaehee Kang: I will put a stop to all major projects, and look more into Glam Choi and Sarah.

Jaehee Kang: I can’t help but think things won’t go back to normal until we figure out what they’re planning

MC: Okay. Leave Jumin and Elizabeth to me.

MC: Make sure to take care of yourself too.

Jaehee Kang: Thank you.

Jaehee Kang: Please take good care of him…

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

As fast as she could, Meijeong put away the rest of the groceries and packed the small bag of travel supplies she always brought when she went to watch Elizabeth, just in case. On the subway, she opened the RFA app and found that Yoosung signed into the messenger not long after Jaehee left, anxious about Jumin as well. When he explained why, Meijeong couldn’t help but be more worried as well. Legitimate news sites and tabloids alike were publishing articles about Jumin Han “missing work to prepare for wedding.” Meijeong read through a few of them as she sat and listened to music. It was typical celebrity dating speculation garbage, but now, combined with Jumin’s complete personality change and refusal to leave home or work… Hopefully, if she went to the Jumin’s penthouse and kept an eye on Elizabeth the 3rd, well… hopefully, he’d be able to relax enough to at least go into the office. That would be a start.

Chapter Text

Something happened the moment Meijeong arrived at Jumin’s that had never happened there before. Guards posted outside the building stopped her immediately, informing her that building’s shopping facilities were temporarily closed and refused to allow her to enter. It took several minutes a cajoling to convince them to allow her to even enter the building. Inside, things were equally tense. Meijeong struggled to find a familiar looking security guard, with no luck. The restaurant and coffee shop that were normally open and busy with customers were closed. Even the fountain had been shut off. There was an awkward, echoing silence in the building, the sound of too much space being left open and unoccupied. Waiting there, closely watched by two security guards who were much less friendly than the ones she was used to dealing with, Meijeong grew more worried for Jumin by the second. 

No wonder Jaehee was worried about him… this is just too much… Meijeong thought as she shifted her weight, arms clutching her bag tightly to her chest. Finally, her message must have made its way through the chain of command to the chief of security and Jumin, because she was escorted to the elevator. The guards refused to speak to her, and Meijeong felt as if she were visiting some top-secret military base rather than the home of a friend. At least Seven won’t have to worry about whether or not I’m safe from the hacker for a bit… 

Thankfully when the elevator arrived at the penthouse floor, a more familiar face greeted Meijeong: Mr. Lee, the chief of security that Jumin had introduced her to on previous visits.

“I’m sorry about all of this, Miss Chen,” he said, “We’ve been instructed to maintain the highest level of security, even for people who have previously been allowed entry.”

“It’s fine, you’re just doing your jobs,” Meijeong replied pleasantly, “With the hacker situation, it’s understandable, though I didn’t think Jumin would be quite this nervous about it to be honest.”

“Hacker!?” Mr. Lee’s eyes grew wide.

Meijeong frowned, confused. “Yes… isn’t that why everyone is so tense?”

“We weren’t told, Miss Chen…” Mr. Lee replied slowly, “Only that we were to increase security and allow no one into the building without Mr. Han’s permission.”

“I see…” Meijeong bit her lip, her forehead creased with worry. She wondered why on earth Jumin hadn’t mentioned the hacker… but then they arrived at Jumin’s door and Mr. Lee rang the bell. Jumin opened the door almost immediately.

“It’s good to see you, Jumin,” she smiled.

“Meijeong!” he said, eyes bright and wide in a pleased sort of surprise. “Please, come in.” Smiling, he held the door open for her. Once Meijeong was inside, he gave a quick nod to the chief of security and carefully closed the door behind her.

“Jaehee was really worried about you…” Meijeong began, “We all are. She thought maybe if I came and visited for a bit, you might be able to relax and refocus some.”

“So… she asked that of you…” Jumin seemed almost in trance for a moment, staring hard in such a way that Meijeong wasn’t sure how to interpret. “Sorry, I just got lost in your eyes for a moment. I didn’t realize she’s make such an outrageous request when the hacker is still at large… But I’m quite happy you are worried for me.”

“Of course…” replied Meijeong. The corner of her mouth twitched, and she forced into a smile. She was here to help Jumin, so she couldn’t start acting weird just because he was. “You’re my friend. Making sure that you’re okay is part of my job, haha.” She laughed nervously, trying to lighten things up.

“Wasn’t it dangerous on your way here?” Jumin frowned. “When we still haven’t caught the hacker?”

“I was going through crowded public areas, and besides,” Meijeong smiled more genuinely now, “Seven has been making sure I stay safe." 

“Is that so?” Jumin’s forehead pinched, and looked skeptical. “It would have been better if I went to pick you up, but I didn’t know to expect you.”

There was something off about his facial expressions. Meijeong hadn’t spent that much time with Jumin, so it was hard to say exactly what, but it was likely looking at one of those bad CGI recreations of a person in a movie. Some minor, unidentifiable flaw was there, and everything around it looked fake and disquieting.

“I’m sorry. I thought Jaehee had told you, but I must have misunderst- Jumin...” Meijeong’s jaw and her bag dropped to the floor as she entered the main room of the penthouse- “What the hell is this?”

“Oh, Elizabeth?” Jumin turned to look at the cage, beaming at his handiwork. “I put her in a cage for now.”

“Meeoww…” Elizabeth the 3rd recognized Meijeong immediately and began to pace and cry behind the bars of the large, ornate cage. “Meow! Meow!”

“Why would you do that…?” said Meijeong, looking back and forth between Jumin and Elizabeth in stunned disbelief. Crossing the room, she knelt in front of the cage and reached her fingers through the bards, gently scratching Elizabeth as the cat paced back and forth. A heavy padlock hung on the door, blatantly utilitarian and ugly compared to the elegant bars and furnishings of the cage. The cage itself was bolted to the penthouse floor with sturdy brackets.

“I had no choice but to,” Jumin sighed, in aloof tone that suggested he was bored with explaining himself on this issue.

“Meow…” Elizabeth the 3rd cried and rubbed against the bars. Stressed, her white fur was shedding more heavily than usual.

Meijeong frowned and examined the enclosure more closely. Except for the obvious issue of confinement, it seemed to be safe. Not something a cat could live in long term, but there was enough space, comfortable bedding, and fresh clean water, so Elizabeth was at least not in any immediate danger.

“Is this because of Zen’s dream? With Sarah and Glam Choi?” She stood up and straightened her skirt before turning to face Jumin. “I know you’re really worried and confused right now but this isn’t going to help.”

“Did you have dinner yet? I’ll explain over dinner,” Jumin brushed over her concerns. “I can order anything you want. Just because your visit is unexpected doesn’t mean I can’t make it as enjoyable for the you as possible.”

Meijeong looked back over her shoulder to Elizabeth before walking over and grabbing her bag from the middle of the floor.

“Okay,” she replied and tucked the bag into the corner where it always sat when she watched Elizabeth, “But we need to talk about this. I think I’m more worried about you right now then I was before I got here.”

“…Thank you for that,” Jumin’s expression was blank and unreadable for a second, as he fidgeted with his cufflink and looked away. But after a moment, he seemed to gather himself, and flashed his most charming smile, “What would you like for dinner? Actually, I have an idea; I’ll call my chef. I know you’ll like this.”

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: hiya

707: hiya hey hey

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong!

Jaehee Kang: How is Mr. Han?

MC: Uh…

MC: I’m not sure, to be honest

MC: We just finished eating dinner

MC: And he wanted to go check on something

MC: So I came here

707: Ooohhh

707: Was it a super fancy dinner?

MC: oh my god yes

MC: I’m not even sure what some of it was but it was the best thing I’ve ever eaten

707: niiice ^3^

MC:

MC: wait

MC: priorities right now ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: Do you think you can convince him to come to work tomorrow?

MC: Jaehee…

MC: I can’t even convince him to let Elizabeth out of the cage while we’re both here

707: GAH

707: WHAT

707: ELLY

707: XoX !!

MC: yeah…

Jaehee Kang: I was hoping with you there to watch her…

707: ELLY IS IN A CAGE!?!?

707: T_T

MC: I’m gonna talk him down

MC: and get her out of the cage

Jaehee Kang: ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: I hope so

Jaehee Kang: Thank you for all your efforts

707: How are you going to do that?

707: O_o??

MC: I’ve got to get him to talk about all of this

MC: I think

MC: he’s repressed too much for too long

MC: and it’s making him break now

707: Ya

707: Jumin has always been a robot

707: but now he’s overloaded his circuits

Jaehee Kang: That was the impression I got as well

Jaehee Kang: I can only hope that you’re able to help him

MC: Yeah

ZEN has entered his chatroom.

ZEN: hello

MC: Yeah

MC: I talked with Jumin some

MC: and I’m going to stay here for the night

MC: maybe midnight sentimentality is the answer to getting him to open up…

707: lolololol that’s a good idea

ZEN: what’s going on?

ZEN: wait

ZEN: WHAT

MC: haha…

MC: hey Zen… ;;

ZEN: no way

ZEN: NO WAY

ZEN: Meijeong’s at the trust fund kids house…

ZEN: AND SHE’S GOING TO STAY THE NIGHT!?

Jaehee Kang: Yes… ;;

707: lololololol

707: Zen’s jealous

ZEN: No

ZEN: I mean…

ZEN: That’s not what’s important right now

MC: Zen;;

ZEN: A lady can’t stay the night at another man’s house

MC: I’ve spent the night here a few times while I was watching Elizabeth

MC: I trust Jumin

707: And now Elly needs to be rescued!!

ZEN: Forget the furball

ZEN: He may be a rock, but he’s still a man;;;;

Jaehee Kang: I’m not happy about it either but…

Jaehee Kang: I think Meijeong’s the only one who can talk sense into Mr. Han right now

ZEN: U_U///

MC: Zen… I’ll be fine

MC: I can take care of myself

707: Meijeong is safe from the hacker this way too

707: I don’t have to worry so much if she’s at Jumin’s penthouse…

MC: have you had any luck finding anything on the hacker?

707: No…

707: T_T

Jaehee Kang: Yes…

Jaehee Kang: Everything that’s going on… and a hacker threat too

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

ZEN: God…

ZEN: I’m so worried

MC: Zen

MC: I’ll be fine.

MC: Really.

MC: You, however, still have 3 performances left of your show

MC: Why don’t you go run lines and try to relax?

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong’s right

Jaehee Kang: That’s a good idea

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: You’re right;;

Jaehee Kang: I have to get back to work ;;

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong

Jaehee Kang: I pray you’ll be successful in convincing Mr. Han to return to work

MC: Bye Jaehee

MC: Take care

ZEN: I should go too

ZEN: Work on my lines like you said

ZEN: goodnight

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom

ZEN has left the chatroom

707: T_T

MC: What’s wrong Seven?

707: I just keep thinking about Elly

707: all locked up

707: crying T_T

MC: T_T

MC: Don’t worry about it

MC: I’ll fix this ^^

707: ok…

707: U_U///

MC: It’s strange that I didn’t talk to you on the phone today

MC: It kind of became a habit lol

707: ya

707: ur with Jumin though

707: so you’re safe

MC: oh

MC: I guess

MC: but

MC: I like hearing your voice

707: GAH

707:

707: AGH

707:

707: I like hearing your voice too

707: it helps me focus

707: I thought about recording it

707: but

707: that’s a bad idea

MC: lolol

MC: you’re right

MC: that is a bad idea

MC: you should just call me instead

707:

707: I can’t

707: always

707:

707:

707: T_T

707: You have to save Elly, ok?

MC: lol of course

MC: I’m not God Seven, Defender of Justice

MC: but I can do this!

707: God Meijeong! Defend Elly’s honor!

MC: I will save her, meow!

707: Good luck meow!

MC: Jumin just came back

MC: I’ve got to go

707: okey dokey

MC: bye Seven

707: bye~!

MC has left the chatroom.

 

“Jumin, did you do what you needed to do?” Meijeong looked up from where she sat cross-legged on the couch, setting down her phone. She shifted her wait and turned to face him with her whole body, dropping one leg to the floor.

“Yes, I made sure security was fully aware of the situation, and told the building’s vendors to open up tomorrow so that you may visit any you wish,” Jumin replied. “Your smile just now was very charming. What were you thinking about?” Jumin observed, sporting a wry smile of his own.

“Really?” Meijeong felt her face grow hot. “I was just talking to the RFA members… giving them an update about you…”

“Ah, I see,” Jumin said, looking down, smiling and fiddling with his cufflink.

“I’ll make us some tea,” Meijeong said, standing up quickly and darting into the kitchen. She pushed up the sleeves of her sweater past her elbows and filled the kettle with water.

“Oh, thank you.”

After setting the kettle on the stove and clicking it on, Meijeong measured out a wonderfully aromatic peppermint tea that Jumin kept around for her into the teapot. She was aware of Jumin watching her, but her own eyes wandered over to the corner, where Elizabeth the 3rd watched sadly from inside the cage. The elegant white cat had stopped pacing and crying, but she still sat watching, sharp eyes lacking the lazy gaze of a cat’s contentment. Meijeong pursed her lips, worried, but she knew that she couldn’t help Elizabeth until she helped Jumin.

Following her to the kitchen now, Jumin pulled out one of the chic, modern black stools and sat down on the other side of the white marble counter, watching her work. Meijeong noticed, with relief, that at least the strange, un-realness to his expression that she had noticed appeared to have disappeared. Instead, Jumin seemed more pensive and curious, though still not relaxed.

“I have been meaning to ask… but I didn’t want to pry or make you uncomfortable,” Jumin began, and Meijeong realized he was staring at her self-harm scars. His eyes followed the white lines up the inside of her wrist.

“It’s okay,” Meijeong said, looking down and tracing a few of them with her fingers, smiling in a strange, sad sort of way. “It doesn’t bother me. I know it makes people curious, but I don’t like to talk about it unless I know the person.” Meijeong looked up and met Jumin’s eyes. Maybe if I open up about this, I can get him to open up about what’s going on with him…

“I know of several plastic surgeons and specialists who could near completely remove them,” Jumin began, actually opening up his phone while he spoke, “I’ll contact them for you as soon as-" 

“No.” Meijeong snapped quickly, reaching out to grab his hand. Jumin eyes shot wide open, and Meijeong pulled her hand back quickly. Immediately, Meijeong’s face flushed in embarrassment.

“Oh… I mean…” Meijeong stammered, startled by her own outburst, “Thank you, but… I don’t… I mean… Someday, maybe.” She smiled sheepishly, trying to brush off it off.

“But not now?”

“I guess… ugh, this is going to sound strange,” Meijeong brushed her hair back and looked down again. “I hate these scars. I’m not ashamed of them, but… I hate what they remind me of…” Feeling her throat growing tight, she took a deep breath. "A lot of times I forget they're even there, but..."

Jumin seemed to be examining her every slight motion, and Meijeong wasn’t sure how that made her feel. She pressed on regardless, taking another deep breath.

“But I also feel like I need them for now? Someday in the future, I think maybe I won’t anymore, and I hope that then I’ll be able to cover them or remove them or hide them or just hope they fade away. But…” Meijeong felt her face grow red again, and she rubbed her forehead and temple, biting her lip. “Ugh. I don’t know what I’m saying…”

There was a quiet pause as Jumin processed what she tried to explain, interrupted suddenly by the whistling, boiling kettle. Meijeong spun around and tended to it, grateful for the momentary distraction. As soon as she finished pouring the tea, Jumin broke the silence. 

“I’m not sure I understand. This seems to be another moment where your emotions are beyond what I can comprehend,” said Jumin, “But I hope to understand it- you- someday. I’ll respect your wishes on the matter.”

“I’m not sure I understand it either, to be honest.” Her smile was crooked, holding back a well of intense, darker thoughts and feelings that she wasn’t willing to let lose here and now, especially not with Jumin. “Emotions can be strange, right?”

“Yes, I agree,” he paused for another moment, “You remind me of Rika,” he finished and Meijeong felt her throat tighten again.

“Oh? How so?” she replied as casually she could manage, willing her voice not to crack. Discussion of the woman who committed suicide immediately after explaining her self-harm scars was just...

“I find myself wanting to know more about you,” Jumin confessed, lips curved up thoughtfully, “It’s rare that I find myself curious about a person. Never so much as I am about you- except for Rika.”

“Oh. I see,” Meijeong replied simply.

“With Rika, I also felt…” Jumin’s voice trailed off, and his eyes fell, “No, never mind.”

“What is it?” Meijeong’s face crinkled, and she leaned forward, resting her elbows the cold marble counter and her chin on her hands, so that she could meet his eyes. 

“It’s amazing that I feel this way, to be honest,” Jumin frowned.

“Why is that?” Meijeong stood up straight and poured tea for each of them. The cups clinked quietly on the counter, and the smell of peppermint filled the air. Meijeong found it soothing, and she hoped Jumin did too. Jumin gratefully accept the teacup from her, holding it delicately and properly. Meijeong took her cup over to the couch, gesturing for Jumin to follow. She curled up into a comfortable ball on the couch, pulling her knees to her chest and crossing her ankles.

“I suppose it’s because…” Jumin followed her to the couch, and sat down. He leaned back onto the cushions, limbs spread out much more casually then usual, and sighed. “Ever since I was young, I could get anything I wanted… It was as simple as asking for it, or getting it myself.”

“That’s sad,” Meijeong said thoughtfully, cradling the teacup in her hands.

Jumin looked up, startled. “What makes you say that?”

“Struggle is what makes life interesting. I mean, in excess it's bad, just like anything else,” Meijeong mused, biting her lip and brushing a strand of hair back out of her face. “But I think if you always get what you want, as soon as you realize you want it… That doesn’t sound like really living to me. It would be monotonous and then, eventually… just sort of sad, I think.” She looked up and saw Jumin staring at her, wide-eyed. 

“I suppose… you may be right about that.” Jumin gathered himself and sipped his tea. “Because of that… Curiosity was just like a whim that visited me temporarily and sporadically.” 

“But you were curious about Rika.” Meijeong stated simply with a soft smile.

“Yes… it was different with Rika and V. When they were here…” Jumin smiled wistfully. His eyes had a glow to them that Meijeong hadn’t ever seen before. “Every time I saw them, they knew something new, something I didn’t know. They made me… quite anxious.” He looked up at Meijeong and said, “I still feel that anxiety even to this day.”

Meijeong chuckled quietly. “Anxious, huh? That’s a unique way to put it… caring about people and what they think of you.”

To her relief and surprise, Jumin laughed as well. “I suppose it is… Amazing.”

“What is?”

“You made me turn all my focus on you… Thanks to that, I’ll be able to stop thinking about all those troubles,” he replied, smiling brightly now.

“Hey,” Meijeong shifted her weight so she could set down her tea and leaned forward, putting her hand on Jumin’s shoulder, “That’s what friends are for- helping take your mind of your troubles and refocus yourself.”

To her shock, Jumin’s cheeks flushed the faintest hint of red at her touch and she snatched her hand back in embarrassment.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!” Meijeong babbled, “I was just trying to be reassuring, ah…” She kneaded her hands together, looking down.

Jumin reached out and took her hands. “Thank you so much for coming. I feel so much better because you’re here.”

“Yeah…”

There was a quiet pause, only the sound of the fish tank gurgling in the corner. Meijeong felt an inexplicable urge, suddenly, to pull her hands away, but she ignored it. Instead, she let her eyes wander away from Jumin’s piercing gaze to Elizabeth the 3rd, who had finally fallen asleep in a corner of the cage.

“Tomorrow,” Meijeong began, “You need to go to work. I’ll stay here and make sure Elizabeth is safe.” She turned back and met Jumin’s black eyes, trying to sound stern.

“We’ll see,” said Jumin, and Meijeong frowned, “Now that you’re here, I don’t want to leave you alone.”

“No,” Meijeong pulled her hands out of his now, suddenly not liking the feeling in her gut. “I’m not going anywhere, and you need to take care of work if you ever want things to get better.”

“You may be right…” Jumin replied. He stood up and adjusted the sleeves and buttons of his suit. “It’s getting late. You should get some rest. Feel free to sleep on my bed.” 

“Where will you sleep then?” Meijeong laughed, standing up to take her teacup back to the kitchen. “It’s fine, I’ll just take the couch.” 

“I don’t think I’ll be sleeping much tonight,” Jumin said, looking over at his bookshelves, “So please, make yourself comfortable in my bed.”

“Oh…” she frowned, worried, “Okay, if you’re sure. I need to go through the RFA emails first, but then I’ll go to sleep.”

“Very well.”

 

MC entered the chatroom.

Yoosung*: Seven

Yoosung*: I can’t believe there’s a hacker good enough to mess with you like this

707: I know T_T

707: the weird thing is that it seems like they just disappeared without a trace

MC: hey guys

707: hola

Yoosung*: MEIJEONG

Yoosung*: How are things at Jumin’s?

Yoosung*: Are you really okay staying the night?

MC: Things are… getting better?

MC: I think?

MC: It seems like Jumin might finally be opening up some

Yoosung*: That’s good, right?

707: Just be careful

707: Sometimes

707: when a man who held everything in suddenly opens up

707: he loses control

Yoosung*: GAH

Yoosung*: You don’t think…?

MC: -__-

MC: now you sound like Zen

MC: I’m fine, really

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: I hope so

707: Ya

MC: anyway

MC: Seven, you’re still having trouble with the hacker?

707: T_T

707: ya

MC: T_T

707: They don’t have any distinctive qualities

707: And they keep disappearing

707: I don’t know what to make of it

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: it’s too weird

Yoosung*: Why would someone that skilled be after us?
MC: Yeah…

MC: It’s weird

707: I dunno

707: gah

707: I’m so tired

707: and hungry

MC: I’m so sorry Seven

MC: Please take care of yourself

707: thnx

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: we’d all be lost if you got sick

707: U_U//

MC: T_T

707: Oh

707: The agency is calling

707: I have to go

707: more work :(

MC: bye Seven

MC: please take care of yourself

Yoosung*: yeah

Yoosung*: bye Seven

707: byyyyee

707 has left the chatroom.

Yoosung*: It seems like everything is happening all at once

MC: I know ;;;

MC: I do have some good news though

MC: I talked to that animal shelter I used to volunteer for

MC: and even though they can’t come to the Christmas party

MC: they’d love for you and I to start doing volunteering work there

Yoosung*: oh wow!

Yoosung*: that’s great Meijeong

MC: yeah

MC: once things settle down

MC: we should go ^^

Yoosung*: okay ^^

Yoosung*: thanks

MC: of course!

MC: I really want to get involved again too

MC: Thank you for doing this with me

Yoosung*:

Yoosung*: You’re the one doing all the work

Yoosung*: I’m just

Yoosung*: tagging along

MC: Yoosung

MC: I wouldn’t be this excited to volunteer there if it weren’t for you

MC: so don’t be down on yourself

Yoosung*: ^^

Yoosung*: okay

MC: I have to go

MC: It’s late

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: I’m gonna go play LOLOL

MC: night!

Yoosung*: bye!

MC has left the chatroom.

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

 

Jumin was still awake when Meijeong logged out of the chatroom and finished responding to the last email of the night. He sat on the corner of the couch, watching Elizabeth the 3rd. She brushed her teeth and hair, and changed into the old tee shirt and shorts that served as her pajamas. When she emerged from the bathroom, she found Jumin standing quietly by his bookshelf, running his pale, slender fingers across the spines. 

“I’m going to bed,” Meijeong said after moment, and Jumin turned to face her. His face fell when he saw what she was wearing.

“Is that really what you sleep in?” he said, raising his eyebrow incredulously and looking her up and down.

Meijeong laughed and shrugged. “Yes? Its comfortable for me.”

“Comfort and elegance don’t need to be separate qualities,” Jumin said, pursing his lips. “I’ll have someone come and get your measurements tomorrow and have some pajamas custom made for you.” 

“Uhhh… That’s…” Meijeong face grew red and she frowned, “That’s really… not necessary. Thank you though, Jumin.”

“I insist,” he said, looking her up and down and clearly visualizing something. “It will be a gift to thank you for helping me.” 

“Oh… uhm…” Meijeong felt that weird sort of warning in her gut again, like she suddenly desperately needed to change the subject. “I guess that’s fair. Alright.”

“Excellent,” Jumin replied.

Meijeong laughed awkwardly, then waved in an even more gawky and awkward wave. “Well, goodnight then.” She turned to go back to the bedroom, but Jumin called after her.

“I was wondering… if you feel uncomfortable about the situation now,” Jumin paused, turning his gaze once more to the bookshelf, “Do you mind if I read for you?”

“Oh,” Meijeong felt really awkward now, “I’m really tired after today, I think I’d just like to go to sleep. Maybe another time?” 

“Right, of course,” said Jumin.

She could hear the disappointment in his voice, but she wasn’t lying. She was exhausted, and something about the situation… No… that’s not it. Zen and everyone are just messing with my head because I’m so tired… Meijeong just really wanted darkness and sleep so that she’s have the energy to make sure Jumin went to work and Elizabeth left her cage tomorrow.

Still… Meijeong found herself unable to relax when she crawled into the silken sheets of Jumin’s extraordinarily comfortable, fluffy pillowed feather bed, unusual for most nights she spent here. Those previous nights, however, she had been alone, except for occasionally pawing and snuggling from Elizabeth the 3rd. With a sigh, Meijeong found herself wishing for a thunderstorm to help her relax, and thinking about the last time there had been a storm, talking with Seven in the middle of the night. But now it was almost winter, and so instead of thunder, she had to settle for headphones and quiet music. It wasn’t the same, but it was enough, and eventually, her body relaxed enough to drift off to sleep.

Chapter Text

The sun was only just barely beginning to filter the early morning gray light through the windows when Meijeong woke up. It striped in lines of light and dark across the floor and up the edges of the bet, stopping just short of her face on the pillow. She groaned and rolled over to grab her phone. He hair hung over her face, a mess that curled in awkward places and stuck to the back of her neck. Meijeong never slept as well in a strange place. Even though she had spent the night at Jumin’s before, there was still some subconscious part of her that couldn’t be at ease. Brushing the mess of hair out of her face, Meijeong sat up in bed and opened the RFA app. To her surprise, Jumin was in the chatroom as well.

 

Jumin Han: Isn’t it quite funny that we’re both logged into the messenger when we’re at the same place?

MC: I guess, haha;;

Jumin Han: ^_^

Jaehee Kang has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han!

Jumin Han: Good Morning :3

Jaehee Kang: This isn’t the time to say good morning.

 

Convincing Jumin to go in to work seemed to be going much more smoothly than Jaehee or Meijeong could have hoped. In fact, when Meijeong logged out of the messenger and followed the delicious, warm smell of pancakes into the kitchen, Jumin seemed more relaxed than Meijeong had ever seen him. He seemed quite pleased with his accomplishment, smiling at Meijeong amidst pancakes stacked high and fresh cut strawberries.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully, holding a cup of coffee and already wearing a suit. It was similar though not quite identical to the one Meijeong had seen him in the night before. She wondered briefly where he had found the apron he had on over top of it. 

“G’morning,” Meijeong said, smothering a yawn with her hand as she sat down at the table, “Did you manage to sleep at all last night?”

“No, but it’s nothing for you to be concerned about,” he replied. “I’ve worked on less sleep before.” As he spoke, he plated a generous helping of pancakes and strawberries, sliding them across the table to her along with a cup of tea. 

It became apparent to Meijeong after a few bites that much like photography, cooking was not one of Jumin’s particular skills. Despite the delicious aroma, the texture of the pancakes was completely wrong, and Meijeong found herself forcing down dusty chunks of what appeared to be pure flour hidden in the flavorless pastry. Still, she smiled and nodded gratefully when he asked how they were, unwilling to say anything that might set off a mood and lead Jumin to decide against going to work. Perhaps she shouldn’t have worried, because after a few more pleasantries, Jumin brought up the subject himself.

“I think…” he fiddled with cufflink, looking down, “I think you and Assistant Kang. I have to go to the office today. I can’t just sit and let strange rumors get around my office.”

“I think you’re making the right choice,” Meijeong said, relieved for a conversation serious enough that she could put down her fork without arousing suspicion.

“Thank you… I’ll come back as soon as I can. If you’re here to watch over Elizabeth the 3rd, I’ll feel safe while I’m gone…” Even as he said that, Jumin looked nervously towards Elizabeth’s cage, unable to completely convince himself. “Will you be okay?”

“I’ll take good care of her,” Meijeong said, “Nothing bad will happen, I promise, so don’t worry and go take care of things at C&R.”

“You have a beautiful heart. As important as Elizabeth the 3rd is to me, that’s how much I trust you…” Jumin smiled softly, more relaxed now and Meijeong breathed a tiny sigh of relief. “So I won’t have to be anxious while taking care of work. I hope you both stay safe until I come back.”

“Of course we will Jumin,” Meijeong grinned. With one hand, she gave a thumb's up and with the other she squeezed his arm. “Don’t worry and just take care of what you need to deal with at work.”

“If everything goes well in the morning, why don’t we go shopping in the afternoon? There’s an outfit I’d like to buy for you,” Jumin said, and regally lifted her hand to his mouth, pressing her fingers lightly to his lips. “A princess should have clothes fit for a princess. That’s what my father has taught me since I was a little boy.”

Laughing awkwardly, Meijeong pulled her hand back, clutching it to her chest and blushing. “Thank you for saying that, but don’t worry about me and do what you have to do…!” She pursed her lips together, trying to hide a frown.

“Yes, thank you for understanding,” Jumin replied, smiling obliviously to her discomfort, “I’ll make sure to make it up to you.” His face became more serious then. “If anything happens, you know to call me, right? You have to let me know if anyone tries to do anything to you. Of course, nothing like that will happen I’m sure…”

“Jumin, I’m not going to leave the apartment. I brought a book, I’m just going to sit and read and watch Elizabeth. Nothing is going to happen,” Smiling, Meijeong rolled her eyes, unable to stop herself from sassing him a bit.

“Still… let me have the chief of security come up and explain things thoroughly to him so there is no confusion.” Jumin took out his phone, dialing the security office.

As he spoke to the guard on the other end of the line, Meijeong’s eyes drifted to the cage in the corner, where Elizabeth paced back and forth again, tail twitching and eyes narrow. Meijeong’s forehead creased, and she walked over, petting the cat’s long fur through the cage. She pulled her hand back, and delicate white strands fell to the cage floor like snow. Elizabeth was still stress shedding, and Meijeong couldn’t help but worry.

“Jumin…” she began, carefully, when he had hung up the phone, “Can I let Elizabeth out while you’re gone? Just for a little. I’m worried about her in the cage.”

“I don’t intend to keep her inside the cage forever…” Jumin danced around her request. “Although, I quite like it, truth be told.”

“Her hair is falling out. Animals that are used to be free get stressed out when they’re suddenly confined…” Meijeong frowned, trying to find a way to make Jumin understand. “To have someone you trust suddenly force you into a situation where you feel trapped and without any control… Jumin, you should know how that feels.” Finally, to Meijeong’s relief, Jumin seemed to reconsider. His face grew hard and lined as he weighed what Meijeong said, until finally he spoke.

“Alright…” Jumin frowned, but he walked over to the cage, pulling a key from his pocket. “I’ll show you how to let her out. Just for brief bits at a time… please.” He sounded so hesitant as he unlocked the padlock and opened the cage door. Meijeong felt a surge of pity, but she was glad that Jumin was making the right decision…

To her surprise, Elizabeth didn’t immediately exit the cage, but rather darted back, eyeing the opening suspiciously. Meijeong frowned, and was about to ask how long Jumin had kept her locked in the cage when the doorbell rang.

“That’ll be the chief of security,” Jumin said, formally straightening his suit and tie before going to answer the door.

Meijeong paused for a moment, wondering if she should care about still being in pajamas, before deciding she didn’t care and following Jumin to the door. The chief of security didn’t seem to care, though the “Miss Chen” felt even more awkward to her than normal. The three of them stood in the open doorway while Jumin explained the situation, and to his credit, the Chief didn’t seem fazed by Jumin’s repetitive and firm instructions about protecting Meijeong and the penthouse.

“I’ll be out for a while. While I’m gone, please make sure to give proper protection to Meijeong here. Please remember her face.”

“Yes, of course, sir.”

“We’ve met before of course,” Meijeong smiled politely, but extended her hand anyway to shake his.

“Yes. Miss Chen, if anything happens, you can call for me anytime,” the chief of security then paused and frowned, “Mr. Han…”

Jumin interrupted him, suddenly becoming very business-like and serious, “I’ll take questions later. If my father, Sarah, Glam Choi, any one of these three visits me, call me first; do not allow them entry without hearing from me directly. Also-”

“Err, Mr. Han, I’m sorry to interrupt you but!”

“What is it?” Jumin replied, sounding irritated. Out of the corner of her eye, Meijeong thought she saw a blur of motion, and the Chief of Security spun around quickly staring down the hallway.

“Your… I thought I saw…” the chief stuttered.

“What…?” Jumin frowned angrily.

"No…” Meijeong darted out into the hallway, staring down where the blur of motion had went. “Elizabeth?”

Jumin’s eyes shot wide open, and he spun around, staring at the empty cage where Elizabeth had been only moments before.

“Elizabeth the 3rd…” His mouth hung open in complete horror. “She was there just now… where did she go?”

“I couldn’t see properly…” The chief looked down the hall, equally horrified. “Because I was looking at Miss Chen… I think it was your cat, Mr. Han…”

“Eliz…abeth the 3rd…” Jumin seemed to crumble next to her.

“I’ll lock all the building gates right now. She couldn’t have gotten far.”

“God…” Jumin stood frozen in shock, staring blankly as if he could not even hear the Chief.

Immediately, Meijeong began to head down the hallway, a steady half-jog so that she wouldn’t startle Elizabeth. This had happened at the shelter while she worked there, and as long as Elizabeth didn’t feel threatened…

“Tell all the security guards. Right now!”

Meijeong heard Jumin shouting behind her, but her focus was on finding Elizabeth. She didn’t realize how close he was until a firm hand grabbed her arm, stopping her in her tracks. When she turned around, Jumin was shouting orders to the Chief of Security.

“Lead me to the security room where I can see all CCTV screens of the hallway and lobby,” Jumin commanded, “Finding my cat is first priority.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Jumin, I’ll help you find her!” Meijeong said, turning to keep following after Elizabeth, but Jumin’s only gripped her arm tighter, refusing to let her take another step. She spun to face, ready to protest, but she wasn’t prepared for the broken, hollow look on Jumin’s face.

“No...” Jumin pleaded, voice strained, “You stay here, Meijeong. Please. This might sound funny, but if even you won’t stay here, then I will feel very troubled.”

“Jumin… I have to help.” Meijeong said, but she was suddenly filled with pity at his expression and her resistance faded, “I’ve dealt with runaway cats before… I can help the guards…”

“Please…” Jumin utter devastation hung from every word, “Don’t leave this place. Alright? Don’t leave. God… “ 

“I… alright,” Sighing, Meijeong gave in and allowed Jumin to lead her back to the penthouse door.

With every step, he muttered under his breath. “Keep calm. I’ll come back with Elizabeth the 3rd. Just wait for me here…”

“Jumin…” Meijeong began, but as soon as she was inside Jumin shut the door, still muttering to himself. She stared at the closed door, heart pounding.

After what felt like an eternity, the adrenaline wore off, and Meijeong felt her head began to spin. She turned around, staring at the empty, open cage across the room. “Holy shit… what just…” She slumped backwards, leaning against the door and sliding down to the floor. “Oh my god… this is bad… this is so bad…”

Somewhere, in the back of her mind, a tiny voice was telling Meijeong she needed to do something, to tell the other RFA members what happened, or disobey Jumin and go out searching for Elizabeth the 3rd on her own. But that tiny voice was being drowned out by a louder, more persistent chanting. You let her out… this is your fault… your fault… you made him let her out… your fault… She took deep breaths, trying to stop herself from panicking. With each ragged breath, her head became a tiny bit clearer until finally, she was able to think again.

Meijeong stood up, slowly, careful not to make herself dizzy again. With a deep breath, she made her way back to the bedroom and got dressed, throwing on a tee shirt and jeans. In the bathroom, she brushed her teeth and talked to herself in the mirror. 

“Okay, first things first…” she said, brushing her long, wavy brown hair absentmindedly trying to make it presentable as she spoke to herself, “Everyone else needs to know. Maybe Seven found the hacker and has enough time to start searching local security cameras. Yoosung doesn’t have class today, he can come help search outside the building and let local shelters know to keep an eye out…” 

No one was more distraught than Jaehee at the news, albeit less because of Elizabeth the 3rd’s safety and more because the chance of Jumin showing up at work was now absolutely zero. Meijeong was about to call Jumin to see if he had had any luck with the search when he returned, staggering through the door like he had lost his way and found his way there by accident.

“You’re still safe,” he said, his voice ragged. “I’m so sorry for being gone so long.” 

“Of course I am…” she said, forehead wrinkled, “It’s only been a couple of hours. I haven’t left. What about Elizabeth?”

“I couldn’t find her. I can’t believe this…” Jumin pinched the brow of his nose and inhaled deeply.

“Give it time,” Meijeong said. She went to the kitchen and poured Jumin a cup of the tea she had hot and waiting. He accepted it from her meekly; a trait Meijeong never thought Jumin could express.

“She could have left the building. Cats can get around places that people can’t see, so she must have found a way,” His voice was stilted, with the emphasis on all the wrong syllables, as if his thought came difficultly, “She even avoided the thermal cameras. Do you think she ran that fast?” He looked at her, and his eyes were red and bloodshot against his pale face. 

“I let the rest of the RFA know. Seven still hasn't found anything about the hacker, but he's going to try and solve that problem so he can look into security footage and search for Elizabeth. Jaehee had the idea to put out a bulletin to local news networks,” Meijeong listed everything off for him matter of factly- Jumin would be reassured by facts, not emotions. “Yoosung and I contacted the local animal shelters and rescues in case someone brings her in.”

“You… did all of that for me…?” Jumin took a deep breath and it seemed that perhaps he finally was finding the ground beneath him again. “…I honestly have never seen her run so fast. She always used to stretch leisurely at home. Over there…” Jumin pointed, “On the center of that sofa, she’d meow every morning looking towards my bed. I can’t believe that she’s not here…”

“Jumin… just hang in there,” Meijeong said, “I know things seem bad right now, but we’ll find her.”

The room was quiet for some time, silent but for the bubbling of the aquarium and Jumin’s breathing. Neither one of them made a move to disturb the quiet, and after a long while and several more cups of tea, Jumin seemed to arrive at a strange sort of sense of peace. Meijeong didn’t resist when he insisted on calling up a chef with an extravagant meal for their lunch, or bringing in seamstress to take measurements for the pajamas he promised her. She hated when people spent money on her, but it seemed to cheer Jumin up some, so she wasn’t going to protest- no matter how uncomfortable it made her feel- it was nothing compared to how useless she felt over what happened with Elizabeth and so… well, with any luck, Elizabeth would be found any moment.

But the day continued, and Elizabeth was not found. Meijeong felt more like a doll than a person through all of Jumin’s fawning, but if this was what helped him cope right now… She grinned and went along with it all. She let him lead her around the various levels of the building, through various fancy boutiques and shops. There were several outfits purchased for her, high fashion designs that Meijeong would have never picked out on her own. She drew the line at jewelry, and completely rebelled when he suggested a hair stylist, thankfully able to distract him with the idea of a tea and flowers instead.

When they finally returned to the apartment, Meijeong watched on helplessly again as Jumin wandered over to Elizabeth’s empty cage and knelt before it. His pale fingers traced down the bars and his dark eyes clouded over.

“I can’t believe that I still haven’t found her…”

“Jumin…” Meijeong replied, following him slowly, unsure of what to do. “We will find her. I promise.”

“Yes, we will. Alive or not…”

“Jumin, she’ll be alive-“

“-We’ll find her. But, more than that…” Jumin sighed, and bowed his head, slumping bent over, “I can’t accept that she tried to run away from me. I feel like all the love I’ve given her for years will have gone to waste. How do I express how I’m feeling right now…?”

Meijeong bit her lip and crouched next to Jumin. She offered him her hand and though Jumin took it, his body remained hunched with grief.

“I feel as if I’ve been betrayed… this bitter sadness that eats away a part of my heart,” He shook his head bitterly, squeezing her hand more tightly. “Why am I like this? It’s very unlike me. Meijeong…” Jumin turned his face so he could look her in the eyes, “… Can’t you stay a bit longer with me?”

“I…” Meijeong took a deep breath, “I’ll be here until you feel better, Jumin. You can trust me.”

“Thank you, Meijeong…” Jumin smiled, though it did not reach his eyes, which remained sorrowful. “It hasn’t been long since we’ve met, I don’t want to burden you…”

“Jumin, you’re not a burden,” Meijeong insisted, grabbing his shoulders with both hands, “You’re human… this is just part of a being human.”

“Damn…” A strange look came over him now, as twitch to his mouth and strange light in his eyes that Meijeong didn’t recognize… but then it was gone, and only a grateful smile remained. “It’s hard to control my emotions. I’m sorry that I can’t be peaceful. I hate myself like this. It’s the first time I feel like I’m hitting rock bottom.”

“Jumin… so much is happening to you all at once…” Meijeong began, but before she could continue, he leaned back away from her and stood up, walking over towards the bookshelf. Meijeong frowned, but made no move to follow him. What more could she possibly say, possibly do, except let him know he would not be abandoned?

“I’m going to go speak with security again,” said Jumin, late that night, “You should clean up. Go to bed, get some sleep." 

Meijeong didn’t fight him on the issue, and while he was gone, showered and change into her old pajamas. Despite Jumin’s best efforts, the fancy new ones that he had measured were not ready yet. She was towel drying her hair when her phone rang.

“Oh! You picked up!” Seven’s voice rang out cheerfully and for some reason, Meijeong felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off her chest.

“Seven, hey!” she answered, smiling, “What’s up? How’s work?”

“No…” he groaned and Meijeong heard a sound that she thought might be his head thunking down onto a desk, “Noo…? I fell behind trying to catch the hacker, and now it's like they disappeared. Poof! Gone,” Now Seven sighed, “And I haven’t seen any sign of Elly either…”

“Yeah…” Meijeong said, “We haven’t had any luck here either. I don’t want to burden a Defender of Justice too much, but please help us as much as you can, meow?”

“I’ll shall do my best, meow,” Seven chuckled.

"Thanks, meow."

"You haven't noticed anything weird though, right? I know there's probably nowhere safer for you to be from a hacker than Jumin's... I can barely get in there if I want to but still..." He sounded tired… and there was something about his tone that had Meijeong curious. 

She pulled her legs up onto the bed and sat cross-legged, pulling her damp hair over her shoulder. “I'm fine, really. Are you okay...?”

“I just tried to remember your voice while I was working and I couldn’t,” Seven said, more bluntly than usual, “It was super weird since I have a super good memory so I called you. It’s back in my brain now that I’ve heard it…” 

“Yeah?” Meijeong felt warm and comfortable, and it wasn’t because of the bed or the shower. “It’s nice to hear your voice too.”

“Why couldn’t I remember it before…?” Seven muttered, speaking more to himself than her now. Meijeong could hear him typing quickly while he spoke. “Is it because of all the Dr. Pepper I drank...? Ugh… but…” The clicking and typing sounds stopped for a moment, “I didn’t interrupt your sleep, did I?”

“No…” Meijeong sighed, “It’s been a long day, but I don’t think I’ll sleep well… I’m glad I’m talking to you now.” 

“Oh, such a good answer! You are correct!” Seven laughed brightly, and the sound was infectious. Meijeong found herself laughing along with him. It had been such a long day that both of them were soon in near hysterics. After a moment, Meijeong flopped backwards, onto the bed, holding the phone to her ear and just enjoying the silliness of the moment. 

“That wasn’t even that funny,” she said between a few last stray giggles, “I mean… not at all. Zero joke quality. I don’t know why I started laughing… It’s strange.” 

“Strange, huh…?” Seven said, suddenly sounding thoughtful, “Something really strange happened when I was calling you before…” 

“Really?” Meijeong swung her legs over the side of the bed and carried the towel back to the bathroom.

“My hands were just pressing your number automatically…” Seven said, “It was almost like a trance. I woke up when I heard the signal and thought about hanging up, but I’m glad I didn’t.”

“I’m glad you didn’t too,” Meijeong replied, “I feel a lot better now, after today.”

“Ahaha, good,” Seven laughed, but then his voice took on that soft quality that he sometimes used when it seemed as though he was speaking to himself, the tone that made Meijeong heart feel strange, “Hearing your voice makes me want to take you to the space station…”

“Yeah?” Meijeong paused, walking across the window to look out the window. She couldn’t see any stars or even the tonight but… “That would be so much fun. We should go!”

“Ahahahahaha…” This time, his laughter didn’t sound quite right, and Meijeong was concerned that she had said something wrong.

“Seven?” There was a long silence, and Meijeong grew more worried, “707? God Seven? Luciel?”

“Oh. I have lots of work to do. And Miss Vanderwood is going to get mad at the mess I’ve made of things. So I need to hang up now,” Seven suddenly replied, sounding flustered, “Uhm… Thanks for talking with me.”

“Thank you for calling,” said Meijeong.

“Of course! God Seven always has time for his disciples! Have a good night!” 

“Bye!”

Jumin returned not long after that. Exhausted as he must have been from the day’s high emotions, he still fought Meijeong on the sleeping situation. Eventually, she gave in and agreed to sleep in his bed while he slept on the couch- or rather, while he paced and read in the living room. After everything that had happened, Meijeong didn’t expect to be able to rest at all. However, she must have been more tired than she realized. Before she even realized she was asleep, Meijeong awoke to a commotion the following morning- loud voices and someone pounding on Jumin’s door.

Chapter Text

“Jumin…” Meijeong yawned, staggering out of the bedroom sleepily, “What’s going on? Is everything alri-" 

“I thought it was the bodyguards, but… the shouting is odd,” Jumin frowned. He left the kitchen where he had been hard at work making breakfast (… oh I hope those aren’t pancakes again… thought Meijeong) and went to the door. Meijeong followed him, still in a state of not-awake dull confusion. Jumin’s face was cross, like he was offended that his morning had been so rudely interrupted. 

“Maybe someone found Elizabeth…” Meijeong said, though that wasn’t what it sounded like. It’s sounded like a mob was attacking.

Even the thought of Elizabeth didn’t seem to change Jumin’s prickly demeanor an inch. He opened the door just enough to allow the stationed guard inside. The second the door was open, the noise immediately dropped off to nothing but the polite insisting of bodyguards and a woman’s voice. When he shut it again, the noise did not resume. Jumin’s attention must have been all that was desired for now.

The guard whispered something to Jumin, but though Meijeong was too far away to hear, Jumin immediately groaned. From down the hall, she saw him mutter something under his breath. Running her fingers through her hair and rubbing her eyes, Meijeong crept closer carefully. 

“She says knows something about Elizabeth the 3rd,” said Jumin. Meijeong’s eyes flew open wide and suddenly she was wide-awake. She rushed forward.

“Who does?” Meijeong said. “What did they say?” She looked up at Jumin, expecting him to be equally shocked, but or at the very least outraged that Sarah would use the loss of Elizabeth a means to approach him. To her surprised, Jumin seemed completely unmoved by the announcement. If anything, he looked even more bored.

“Err…” The guard looked back and forth between Meijeong and Jumin, as confused by Jumin’s indifference as Meijeong was, “Miss Sarah says that she must tell you face to face." 

“…I don’t particularly want to let her in here…” Jumin said. “And I’m sure what she has to say is a lie…” He looked down and seemed to be debating never opening the door again. There was an awkward paused as Meijeong and the guard stared at him, the room dead quiet. Finally, Jumin’s attention seemed to snap back. “But I’m sure she’ll continue to fuss if I don’t at least speak to her. What do you think, Meijeong?”

“Just listening to whatever ‘information’ she has isn’t going to hurt anything,” Meijeong said with a shrug. “I think you should hear her out. Maybe she is trying to help, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.”

“It is highly likely that she thinks of this situation as an opportunity…” Pausing for a moment, Jumin pursed his lips together and fiddled with a cufflink. “If I think the information she provides is useless, then that will give me a reason to never see her face again…”

“Win-win?” Meijeong said, and Jumin snorted, letting out the tiniest puff of a laugh. Meijeong grinned, chuckling, “I’m gonna go throw some clothes on.”

Jumin nodded to her and the door guard, before closing the door. “I wish that woman would just say, “I have Elizabeth the 3rd,” Meijeong heard him mutter as she turned away, “Give me your money,” like a villain. Let’s hope for it…”

Meijeong brushed her teeth, washed her face, and brushed her hair at warp speed, then quickly threw on one of the less… ostentatious… dresses Jumin had bought for her the day before, since her own clothes were being laundered. It was a fitted sweater dress, with long sleeves and a wide neck that hung off her shoulders. A small cut out section in the front above the bust. For someone who supposedly preferred modesty, the clothes Jumin had picked out tended have to have a lot of revealing details like that… 

Down the hall, she could hear Jumin and Sarah talking. Thankfully, it sounded like things were relatively pleasant so far, but it she supposed it could be easy to mistake politeness for pleasantness from this distance. Meijeong crept back into the hallway slowly, not wanting to interrupt, but it seemed that though Jumin was willing to talk to Sarah ‘face to face’, he still wanted a door between them. There was a six-inch gap opened, but the door was held closed by the chain latch, and Sarah was clearly not pleased by the situation. Her hand was wrapped around the door edge, the only part of her visible, revealing perfectly manicured red nails. 

“I’ll show you when I get in,” Sarah’s voice cooed, sickeningly sweet. Her nails clicked up and down on the door in a rhythm that screamed irritation.

“Mr. Han…” The security guard called through the door, sounding a bit helpless. “Are you okay, sir?”

“I’m fine. God…” Jumin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, “If you want to come in so desperately, then I suppose I have no choice. Move so I can open the door properly.”

Taking a deep breath, Jumin looked back at Meijeong with a peculiar glint in his eyes before opening the door fully. The second it was open, Sarah, strutted in, straightening her purple dress’s tiny skirt and smiling as though she had been invited, rather than coerced her way in. She tossed her long magenta hair over her shoulder and smirked.

“Call me if anything happens,” the head of security managed to say before Sarah slammed the door in his face.

“I’m not a stranger, you know,” Sarah said, sounding huffy. She walked forward into the living room, checking her makeup in a hand mirror and preening as she did. Meijeong found herself reminded of a cat, which she found amusing given the situation. “I just want to enter my fiancé’s house!” She pouted her freshly glossed lips out dramatically at Jumin, who stared at her with disdain. His arms were crossed stiffly.

“I just can’t understand what you’re making such a fuss about!” Sarah simpered, “My love…”

Meijeong couldn’t help but snort from her place near the kitchen. Sarah was everything she had imagined her to be- a ridiculous caricature of a gold digger. The sound of her laugh was enough to finally break Sarah out of her ridiculous posturing to realize that Sarah and Jumin were not alone. The glare she gave Meijeong was impressively hateful, and would have been frightening if the situation weren’t so ridiculous. She stopped past Jumin to get a better look at Meijeong.

“Who is this girl?” Sarah snapped.

Meijeong couldn’t help but notice the derogatory tone to the word ‘girl’ as Sarah looked Meijeong up and down haughtily. Sarah’s nose twitched, like a cat displeased with the food it had been offered, and Meijeong fought the urge to do something sarcastic. 

“Show me the photo,” said Jumin. His tone could almost be mistaken for boredom, if one didn’t know him well.

“Your hidden lover?” Sarah laughed hollowly, turning back to face with Jumin her hand resting on her hip.

“I’m just a friend,” Meijeong couldn’t help but roll her eyes, “It’s nothing like that. Just tell Jumin whatever it is you know about Elizabeth.”

“Oh my…!” Sarah spun back around, offended that Meijeong had the guts to talk back to her, “Look at this little girl lying through her teeth!” She circled Meijeong as she spoke, smiling like a hungry lioness. Meijeong watched on, unimpressed by the jealous woman before her.

Back in front of Meijeong, Sarah poked her index finger into Meijeong’s chest and tilted her head, “What the hell are you doing in my fiancé’s house so early in the morning, little girl?” For the first time, her smile completely fell, turning into more of a toothy snarl.

Meijeong debating asking Sarah how old she was that she was calling a 24-year-old woman a ‘little girl’ (mostly because she knew it would be a mortal offense to a woman so vain) but Jumin spoke up before she could.

“…Who’s whose fiancé?”

Sarah’s coy smiled snapped back on at the sound of his voice. “Jumin, no need to be shy,” she purred, “I know about everything now… I’m sure she’s just a meaningless hook up. Nothing to make a fuss over. Men in your position are involved in little dalliances like this all the time, but they’re nothing compared to the bond of marriage.” Sarah minced back over to Jumin and ran her fingers down his tie as she cooed at him. “I’m mature enough not to be bother by meaningless little things like her.”

Jumin stared down at Sarah silently, uncrossing his arms to pry her hands off of his lapel. His face was hard and lined.

“Don’t look at me like that!” Sarah pouted. Flipping her long magenta hair back over her shoulder, she took a step back and reached into her purse. “You’ll feel much better if I show you the photo.” She plucked the photo from within her designer purse and held it out in front of Jumin delicately.

Meijeong rushed forward to get a look, but she could tell before she even got there that something was off. She stopped and stepped back when she saw the way Jumin’s eyes twitched in irritation. That told her all she needed to know about the authenticity of the photo.

"It’s Elizabeth!” said Sarah cheerfully, when Jumin failed to react. She smiled and pushed the photo closer to him.

“Unfortunately, it’s not,” said Jumin.

“What? Look closer!” Sarah purred, “All cats kind of look alike. White fur and blue eyes! It’s her!” Sarah spun around and held the photo in front of Meijeong now, bottom lip puckered out and eyes squinting in fake sadness. “Tell him! It’s clearly Elizabeth!”

Meijeong frowned and looked at the photo Sarah was waving in front of her face. The shamelessness of it made her eyebrows raise and her eyes grow wide. The photo could not have more clearly not been Elizabeth. The cat’s head was a completely different shape, the eyes were wrong, lidded with dark eyelashes, and the fur was short and scruffy. Even the body size was wrong. This cat was stockier and shorter than Elizabeth.

“Yeah… that’s not Elizabeth,” Meijeong stated, fighting down the urge to roll her eyes again. “It’s a completely different cat. The only thing they have in common is fur and eye color.”

“No! It’s obviously her, you stup- I mean…” Sarah stopped mid-snarl to turn back to Jumin and piled the sweetness and innocence on thick, “Maybe… the photo didn’t come out as well? If you see her in person, I’m sure you’ll recognize her! Come with me!” Sarah laced her arm under Jumin’s in attempt to escort him to the door, but Jumin slipped out of her grasp and took a step back out of her reach.

“I must refuse,” said Jumin, politely but firmly. Meijeong had to give him credit for that. She would have stopped being polite ages ago if she were in his shoes. It was all she could do to swallow down the string of insults and sharp words that were coming to mind as it was…

“You have no idea how hard it was for me to find a similar looking cat for you in such a short time!” Sarah said with a dramatic sigh, and at that Meijeong really did burst out laughing.

“So you admit you just went and found a cat that looked the same, not Elizabeth?” Meijeong snorted. “It’s nice of you to be honest, at least.” From the corner of her eye, Meijeong saw the corner of Jumin’s mouth twitched into just the faintest hint of a smile.

“I- what- how DARE you!” Sarah snapped, loosing her cool, “Jumin, are you really going to let some worthless little girl talk like that to your fiancée?”

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” Jumin said, looking down at Sarah with barely concealed disgust now, “And I hope we do not have to see each other ever again. I will tell my father about what happened today." 

“E-ever again…?” said Sarah. Her eyes glistened with the hint of crocodile tears, the in-control and mature façade having completely melted away in the last outburst. “Are you breaking up with me…?”

“Break up? How strange of you to say that when we have never been together,” Jumin said, “If you though that exchanging a few words was being together, then you are delusional.”

“But!” Sarah rushed forward, dropping the photo of ‘Elizabeth’ to clutch onto Jumin’s sleeve.

“Will you please leave? I do not with to further waste my time, as I must find my cat,” Jumin pushed past her and picked up the dropped photo from the ground, “I will tell my father that you brought a fake photo of my cat to win over my affections. If my father has any sense left in him at all, he will stop talking about the marriage,” Jumin finished with a sigh. 

“Wait, Jumin, don’t try to call of the marriage on your own!” Sarah pleaded, before whirling around to face Meijeong again. Sarah pointed at her accusingly. “Is it because of that girl? I’m going to tell Mr. Han first! That you have another woman!”

When neither Jumin nor Meijeong reacted, Sarah continued her tirade, gripping her designer purse tight with anger. Her perfectly manicured red nails dug into the expensive leather.

“What, you two are in love or something? That assistant didn’t mention anything like this!” Sarah’s eyes were glinting with rage. She strutted up to Meijeong posturing with her hand before stabbing her nail into Meijeong’s chest again. “If you think that you’re going to get a Prada bag by being with him, make sure I don’t catch you! I don’t know where you came from, but rich families have a reputation to keep up and a little bitch like you would only ruin someone like us!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Meijeong threw her hands up and took a step back, “Sarah, I’m Jumin’s friend. Just a friend.”

“Friend…?” Sarah laughed in Meijeong’s face. “Friend? When you are alone with him in his house at this hour!?” She took a step back, and bit her nail, looking Meijeong up and down with a sneer. “You must have spent the night here, you little slut. It’s so obvious!”

Meijeong’s patience with this situation had officially run out. She opened her mouth but before she could speak a retort, Jumin stepped in.

“You’re hurting my ears,” he groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose and rubbing his forehead, “Seriously, why did my father ever agree to this woman?”

I’m hurting your ears?” retorted Sarah mockingly. “Then listen to me!”

“I wanted to end this ordeal quickly since Meijeong is here…” Jumin sighed and looked up, straightening his collar and tie, “But this reminds me of an episode in a soap opera.”

“What!?” Whatever response Sarah had been expecting, this was clearly not it.

“Your fake tears… your timid threats…” Jumin unclenched his hands and strode forward, a wry smile on his face. “It’s all so cliché that I can’t help but laugh.”

“I’m really going to tell Mr. Han,” said Sarah proudly, her head held high and chest out, “No use stopping me now.” She glared at Jumin down her nose.

“I can guarantee you that your threats are pointless to me,” Jumin continued, unfazed. “I’ve gone through this multiple times in the past. You should just use your energy on something else in life… Giving you advice will only be a waste of time so let’s stop it at that…”

Sarah’s mouth dropped open slightly, but she snapped it shut immediately and sniffed disapprovingly. “So you’re mad at me now, right? Even though you’re the one with a mistress-“

“Not yet,” Jumin replied, “I do not get angry very often. But you’ve annoyed me enough to make me talk. I know very well from experience that people like you will do whatever it takes to get what you want. You will have the right skills and even the spontaneity it takes to do it…”

Meijeong watched on, unsure of where Jumin was going with this. He looked up and fiddled with his cufflink. It almost seemed as if he was trying to remember something.

“But people like you easily fall into nihilism once you’ve acquired that wealth you so coveted. I… felt pity. A life filled with pointlessness.” Jumin turned back to face Sarah, looking down on her with something almost like pity. “But I suppose that’s the life you want?”

Sarah’s brow wrinkled, and she pursed her lips, too confused to respond.

“I had all the wealth ever since I was born. Do you want some?” Jumin continued, casually pacing, “A couple million, is that what you want?”

“Wh-what?” Sarah stammered, looking back and forth between Meijeong and Jumin.

“Tell me. If you ask me for it, I might give it to you. You need money, right?” said Jumin, stopping and spinning to face Sarah, “It’s nothing to me.” His face was stuck in a strange, sardonic sort of smile, and suddenly, Meijeong was worried.

“Jumin, what are you even saying right now?” Meijeong said, pushing past Sarah towards him, “I think you’re too emotional right now. Are you okay!?”

“I’m fine, Meijeong,” His smile to her was much more genuine, but not in the least bit reassuring. She bit her lip and frowned, not even taking her eyes off him when behind her Sarah spoke.

“You- you’re being too…” There was a long pause. “Can you really write me a check right now?”

“I do not like talking about impossible things,” replied Jumin plainly.

“Ju-Jumin! You can’t-” Meijeong began, but he raised his hand, gesturing for her to wait. There was another pause, shorter this time.

“So you mean it? Th-then… “ Sarah stammered, “About 3 million. Then I’ll say no to the marriage. I’ll even explaining it to your father nicely.” She sighed and straightened her dress and hair matter-of-factly. “This will be better, I suppose. It’s a win-win then.”

“…Got you,” Jumin smiled.

“Why are you smiling?” Sarah stopped examining her nails and dropped her hands to her sides, staring at Jumin with displeasure.

“I just repeated some lines from a soap opera I watched,” he said, straightening his collar looking pleased with himself. “It’s funny that you’re almost replaying that scene for me. Apparently, it’s a very popular TV show these days.”

“What!?” Sarah snapped, “Y-You were messing with me!?”

“Yes.”

“God…!” Sarah was practically snarling now, all semblances of elegance and coyness dropped, “Who the hell do you think you are? Are you out of your mind?”

“Yes. You’ve come here with a fake photo of my cat you found online and have insulted my dear Meijeong,” Jumin’s dark eyes were near black now, and though he smiled, his gaze was hard, “My joke is only fair, don’t you think?”

“Fair?” Sarah snapped, hands on her hips, “What isn’t fair is you bringing another woman into your house when you’re engaged!?” She snorted and looked down over Meijeong with one eyebrow raised. “And with such an average looking girl, at that.”

Meijeong just rolled her eyes. Sometimes, it was very easy to ignore the rude opinions of others. Jumin, however, seemed to feel the need to come to her defense.

“Meijeong is not an average girl. You wouldn’t understand that even if I explained it to you, and so it seems we have no more to talk about,” said Jumin, taking a few steps towards the door and gesturing Sarah towards it, “Why don’t you leave?”

“No! I can’t leave like this!”

To Meijeong’s shock, Sarah actually had the audacity to take a few steps backwards, so that she was almost too the kitchen. Standing between the warring ‘couple’, Meijeong looked back and forth feeling a bit useless. Sure, she had gotten rid of belligerent customers from the shop before but this wasn’t quite the same. Plus, they usually didn’t hate her personally and it was clear by the way she glared that Sarah absolutely did. Meijeong wondered briefly if that was going to cause problems for herself while Sarah continued to protest.

“This isn’t fair!” Sarah clenched her purse tightly, “No! I won’t go.”

“I don’t know what is not fair about it, but if you do not wish to leave, I will use you to do what I want,” said Jumin and Meijeong turned to give him a confused look, frowning and tilting her head.

“What are you talking about?” sniffed Sarah, her voice dripping with resentment.

“There was something I wanted to do…” Jumin looked down, talking as much to himself as he was to the two of them, “But I just couldn’t come up with a proper excuse. But this seemed to happen often in soap operas.”

“What’s with the whole soap opera thing!?” Sarah forced a bitter laugh. “God, so childish!”

“Uhh… Jumin…?” Meijeong saw that strange look in his eye again as he stepped closer to her.

“Meijeong. I’m sorry. It seems you’ll have to excuse me. I had no other choice to let her out…” said Jumin, a wry smile dancing across his face for just a split second before he leaned closer. “Yes, let’s put it at that. And… I was going to do it soon anyways.”

Before Meijeong could ask him what he was talking about, Jumin reached out his hand and slid it behind her head, pulling her into a kiss. Eyes flying open wide, Meijeong was vaguely aware of Sarah yelling behind her. She flinched backwards, stammering.

“Ju-Jumin!?”

“Shhh… You’re blushing,” Jumin looked her in the eyes and wrapped his other arm around her waist, pulling her closer still. “You’d better close your eyes,” He whispered as he leaned in to kiss her again, “Focus on your senses.”

Her heart pounding so loud she was unable to think, Meijeong stood frozen in place. Jumin’s lips met hers again, and while there was nothing particularly bad about the kiss, it took all of her self-control not slap him and pull away. She watched through partially closed eyes as Jumin looked up to stare at Sarah, almost daring her to do something about the sudden display of intimacy.

“Yes, having an audience for our first kiss takes off the tension. Your lips are so warm and soft,” Jumin said in a breathy sort of purr, “You’re cute, Meijeong.”

He kissed her again. It seemed to finally have the desired effect, anyway. Sarah stormed past them both and out the door, slamming hit hard behind her.

Thankfully, Jumin seemed to take that as a sign to let her go. He stepped a few paces towards the door, making sure it was properly shut and locked. As he did, Meijeong staggered back a few steps, her head pounding and her lungs tight, like she had just been punched in the gut and had the wind knocked out of her. So many small moments of her stay here the past few days flashed in front her eyes, puzzle pieces clicking into place. The looks. The expressions. The things Jumin had said… Meijeong took a deep breath. 

“Jumin…” She frowned, pausing for a moment to try and think of how to say what she was feeling politely. Wrapping her arms around herself self-consciously, she stepped towards him. “I know you wanted a way to get rid of her but I wish you had warned me-“

“To be honest…” Jumin looked down, the faintest hint of a blush on his face, “I’ve wanted to kiss you from the first moment we met. I’m sorry if that was so sudden. I wanted you to be comfortable here… Perhaps I’ve bothered you…” He looked up and took a step towards her, that strange smile on his face again. “But I don’t regret what I did…”

He stepped closer, and Meijeong felt an awkward, nauseous sort of anxiety run through her body. Oh god. The clothes. The nightgown. Does he really expect me to...?  She took a step back, but bumped into the kitchen island.

“Jumin… I don’t…” She took a deep breath a stepped forward. “Listen, Elizabeth is still missing. You’re upset…” 

“The two things have nothing to do with one another,” Jumin said seriously, lips pressed into a thin line. “These are my emotions. These are my feelings for you. Elizabeth isn’t here now, but you are. I want to focus on now.”

He kept coming closer. He reached out his hand and cupped the back of her neck, paused a moment before running his fingers down through her hair. A chill ran down her spine. Meijeong’s mind raced, trying to keep up with what was happening, and yet her body was frozen, unable to move.

“Oh… our kiss made me realize something…” Jumin paused, smiling to himself and sounding amused (and also… relieved…?) as he brushed back her hair with his other hand, “That you are indeed different from Elizabeth the 3rd. The special person who can truly understand me… who I can touch and kiss and understand what I’m saying…”

“J-Jumin…” Meijeong stammered.

“I’ve known this for a while now. I need someone like you, not a cat. And seeing you right in front of my eyes…” Jumin seemed to almost be talking to himself, not to her. He was completely oblivious to her discomfort. “I feel like I’ve finally gotten what I wanted… what I’ve needed.”

“Jumin… just calm down for second,” Meijeong said more firmly now. She slid her hand over his and removed it from her hair, holding it tightly. “You were worried sick about Elizabeth!” 

“Elizabeth the 3rd…” Jumin looked away, back to the corner of the room where the cage sat empty, “Even if I find her again, she is just a cat-“

“That’s not the point!”

“But you’re different. You can soak in all my emotions. You can be mine. That makes me so happy. It must be ironic that I’m so happy when Elizabeth the 3rd isn’t here. But I’ve realized what I truly wanted thanks to my cat going missing. I want you. And I want you to want me too.” He leaned in close now, wrapping his free hand around her waist, moving to kiss her again, and Meijeong turned her head away.

“Jumin, stop it!” Meijeong gasped, trying to stop her panicking lungs from giving away just how frightened she was.  

He did. Eyes opening, Jumin pulled back slightly and stared at her quizzically.

“I don’t… I… this…” Meijeong stammered, her heart pounding. “I’m not… I don’t feel the same way…”

“I can understand if you need time,” said Jumin, eyes clouded and unreadable. “But don’t leave my side right now. I’ll try to be the man who can do anything for you….” Just as suddenly, his face lit up. He took a few steps back and said, “I just thought of something you will like. I’m going to go check with security to make sure Sarah is escorted out of the building and go prepare a little surprise for you.”

“Jumin, I don’t think you understand,” Meijeong said, frowning, “I-“

“I should go in to the office too, and tell my father about what happened here. That should make Assistant Kang happy as well…” He took her hands in his. “Meijeong… I won’t say much. Even if it takes time. I want to have everything you are. So just stay here with me.”

“Jumin, I have work today,” Meijeong said, pulling herself away, and Jumin frowned. “I have to leave. I have to go home and change and go to my job and look up the things I need for RFA and…”

“I don’t feel safe letting you leave, not with the hacker still at large,” Jumin cut her off, shaking his head and looking down as he fiddled with his cufflink, “I think I might lose my mind with worry if I knew you weren’t safe here…”

“I understand,” Meijeong said, “But I have responsibilities I need to take care of. So do you! I can’t stay here forever!”

“No, of course not forever…” Jumin said, and there was something flat and unconvincing about his tone that made Meijeong nervous, “I just don’t feel comfortable letting you leave just yet.”

“Seven’s keeping an eye on me, and I can come back sometime and help you look for Elizabeth more,” Meijeong continued, “But I need to go to work. And I’d like to sleep in my own bed for a night.”

“Luciel has been having far too much trouble with this hacker than usual. I’m not sure I trust him with your safety. Hmmm…” Jumin paused, pursing his lips thoughtfully, “Your shift isn’t until later this afternoon correct…?”

Meijeong sighed and threw her hands down, “Well, yeah, but Jumin…”

“Wait here while I run to the office and take care of a few things,” said Jumin, grabbing his things from around the apartment and not listening to a word she was saying, “Then I can send you to work in a car. And I’ll have the bodyguards with you while you’re at work. Then you can come back here afterwards.” He smiled, clearly pleased with his plan, but Meijeong continued to protest as Jumin gathered his phone and a few files from the living room. He slid the fake Elizabeth the 3rd photo into the stack.

“I’ll go back to the apartment afterwards. Maybe Seven will have caught the hacker by then,” Meijeong followed him to the door, “Maybe someone will have found Elizabeth! Either way, I need to be able to stop there and just-“

“We can discuss it once I get back at lunch.”

“Jumin, that’s not-“

“I’ll alert the security guards of the situation, and make sure that woman has been escorted off the property. Stay here for now…” Jumin turned and took her hand, frowning, his eyes filled with worry, ”…please.”

“Fine. Just… hurry back…”

“Of course.”

In a moment the door shut behind him, and Meijeong was alone. She paced by the door, eventually wandering back into the living room, where she took a deep breath dropped back onto the couch with a sigh. Her body felt so heavy all of a sudden, like the rush and energy from the morning had seeped into every cell and hardened into lead. The only sound in the room was the fish tank bubbling, and its soothing noise helped things settle around her. Checking her phone, Meijeong saw almost a dozen panicked messages from Zen that had been sent in the middle of the night, all along the same lines. Worrying about her staying the night at Jumin’s again. Worrying about Jumin doing something ungentlemanly to her.

Worry, worry… normally, she would have laughed, but now, she just felt kind of nauseous. Unable to think of a witty response to reassure Zen, she set down the phone and went to clean out the kitchen. Having learned her lesson from yesterday, the pancakes Jumin made were all washed down the sink disposal immediately. Besides, she wasn’t all that hungry at the moment.

Meijeong had kissed and been kissed before. That wasn’t the issue. But as she stood in the empty penthouse, the stagnant silence feeling almost more unsettling than screeching, manipulative gold-diggers or emotionally confused corporate heirs could ever be. Every cell in her body was telling her to take her things and run out of the building as fast as she could, but… that wouldn’t solve anything. It would only make Jumin worse, and she had come here to help him, not make things worse. So she drowned the urge to run with tea and RFA emails and singing along to some music.

“It’ll be fine,” Meijeong muttered to herself before opening the RFA chat to check in on everyone else, “Jumin was probably just emotional in the moment. I can still fix this.”

Chapter Text

MC has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: Oh, Meijeong

Jaehee Kang: You’re here

MC: yeah

MC: Did Jumin come in to the office?

Jaehee Kang: Yes~

Jaehee Kang: ^^

Jaehee Kang: It seems like you finally got through to him

Jaehee Kang: I was worried that with Elizabeth gone, he would never come back

Jaehee Kang: But he was very focused on work

Jaehee Kang: And he was very pleased by the info I found on Sarah

MC: Yeah?

Jaehee Kang: Apparently, one of the luxury shopping stores she used to frequent had an incident with her recently

Jaehee Kang: She had about five or six credit cards all declined, so she got very angry with the salespeople…

MC: So she definitely has bad credit…

MC: No wonder she’s so intent on marrying Jumin and selling that Sugar Round company

Jaehee Kang: Yes

Jaehee Kang: The money she would make from selling the company would be much more stable than a divorce settlement.

Jaehee Kang: If she has bad credit, the company cannot be in good shape either

Jaehee Kang: And since no one in the industry has ever heard of it

Jaehee Kang: I’m sure she’s setting the price much higher than the company is worth

MC: Jaehee, you’re the best

MC: I can’t believe you found all of this out

Jaehee Kang: ~* ^_^ *~

Jaehee Kang: It’s nothing…

Jaehee Kang: I just sincerely hope my research helps

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han is in a meeting with the Chairman right now

Jaehee Kang: Hopefully the information will help the Chairman to listen to reason about the marriage

MC: I hope it goes well

MC: Sarah stopped by the penthouse this morning

MC: And confronting her seemed to really

MC: unlock some things

MC: I guess ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: Thank goodness

Jaehee Kang: I never thought I’d be thankful for that woman’s actions

Jaehee Kang: but Mr. Han is at work

Jaehee Kang: And things seem to be looking up ^^

MC: haha yeah

Jaehee Kang: I’ll keep digging into Sarah more all the same

Jaehee Kang: The more we know, the better

ZEN has entered the chatroom.

ZEN: Meijeong!

ZEN: and Jaehee

ZEN: good afternoon

Jaehee Kang: good afternoon Zen

Jaehee Kang: ~* ^_^ *~

MC: hey

ZEN: so that jerk finally decided to get his act together

ZEN: good job Meijeong

ZEN: I was worried about you staying there, but it sounds like everything worked out

MC: yep

ZEN: he didn’t try anything weird though, right?

ZEN: he didn’t make a pass at you

ZEN: or transform from a robot to a beast when the clock struck midnight?

MC: haha

MC: no Zen

MC: everything is fine;;

MC: I swear

ZEN: Good ^^

ZEN: I’m glad everything is working out

ZEN: You’re going home now, right?

MC: I think so

MC: I have work today so

MC: I need to leave

Jaehee Kang: Excellent ^^

Jaehee Kang: Now if we can just find Elizabeth

Jaehee Kang: and catch the hacker

Jaehee Kang: everything will be back to normal ^^

ZEN: Yeah!

ZEN: Seven seems to be having a lot more trouble with this hacker than anything like this in the past

ZEN: It’s kind of weird

Jaehee Kang: I agree

Jaehee Kang: but still

Jaehee Kang: Even Luciel isn’t perfect at his job

ZEN: true

ZEN: It’s just strange to think of him having trouble with anything computer related

MC: I guess so

Jaehee Kang: Oh

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han just returned

Jaehee Kang: He doesn’t look pleased…

MC: Why?

MC: Did something else happen?

Jaehee Kang: I don’t know

Jaehee Kang: I have to go

ZEN: seriously

ZEN: <_< …

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

ZEN: that jerk

ZEN: can’t he see how much everyone is worried about him??

ZEN: and pull it together?

MC: he’s going through a lot

MC: people can’t always just pull themselves together

ZEN: yeah

ZEN: you’re right

ZEN: but still

MC: I think if he feels like he’s being understood

MC: he might start really getting better

ZEN: his brain works in such strange ways

ZEN: is there anyone who could really understand him?

MC: He…

MC: mentioned that Rika really did understand him

MC: And V…

MC: maybe part of this is him finally facing her feelings about her too

MC: And since V isn’t around much either

ZEN:

ZEN: maybe

ZEN: but that doesn’t mean he has to worry you and Jaehee so much

ZEN: I don’t know

MC: I don’t know either.

MC: I’m just

MC: guessing

MC: yeah…

ZEN: you seem better at figuring him out than the rest of us, anyway

ZEN: so hopefully opening up to you will be enough

MC: yeah

ZEN: I have to go

ZEN: Last show tonight

ZEN: Gotta look my best

ZEN: ^_^ *~

MC: okay

MC: bye Zen! Break a leg!

ZEN: thanks lady~

ZEN: bye

ZEN has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Even literally rolling up her sleeves and getting to work could only distract Meijeong for so long. She had no more emails to answer, no more messages to send, no more dishes to wash. She had even finished reading the book she brought with her. As the clock ticked closer to her shift, she found herself growing more and more anxious. Every stroke of the second hand sounded out in her brain.

Finally, Jumin returned home. His attitude was stormy; clearly, the conversation with his father had not gone well, even with Jaehee’s new information and Sarah’s behavior that morning. In fact, the Chairman was more bothered by the fact that Jumin was ‘involved’ with another woman than Sarah’s potential business scam. Jumin paced angrily as he told Meijeong all of this, and she felt so much pity for him. No amount of reason seemed to be reaching his father, and she could scarcely imagine how terrible that must be as a son.

“Have you heard anything about Elizabeth the 3rd?” Meijeong asked when Jumin finished venting his frustrations.

Jumin shook his head.

“Maybe when I get back from work, we can go out looking for her together,” said Meijeong, “She might hide from the security guards but come running if she hears someone familiar.” She began to rush around the room, gathering her things.

“About that…” Jumin paused, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you to leave here. Even with security, the hacker is still at large. And those women…” Jumin’s lip pressed together in a hard line. “They can’t be pleased at the current state of affairs. They might try something, now that they know about you.”

“Jumin, I’m not afraid of those women,” Meijeong said, stopping in her tracks as she shoved her book into her bag. “I have to go to work.”

“Please…” said Jumin, “I’ve only just begun to make sense of things again. If you leave… I think it’ll all fall apart again. I’ll loose my mind with worry if you’re not here, where I know beyond a doubt you’re safe.” He took her hand and looked deep into her eyes, his own full of worry.

“Jumin… I… I can’t,” Meijeong looked away and brushed her hair behind her ear, “I can’t just stay here forever…”

“Not forever. Of course not forever,” replied Jumin, and he reached out and gently turned her face back to look at his, “Just one more day. Until I’m sure those women aren’t planning something.”

“I… alright,” Meijeong said. She sighed, and pulled herself away, uncomfortable with how close Jumin had suddenly gotten. “Let me just call my coworker, call my boss… I have to let them know I can’t come in.”

“Thank you…” Jumin said, smiling. “I want to check in with the guards and make sure the penthouse security features are functioning correctly, as well as make some enquiries about Elizabeth the 3rd. I’ll be back shortly.”

“Okay,” Meijeong said. She watched as Jumin went out the door again, “I’ll be here…”

Flopping down to the couch with a sigh, Meijeong took out her phone. There was a giant knot forming in her stomach. She never, ever, called off work, except for the time when she had caught a nasty flu virus and was out for a week. This would be… well, she couldn’t exactly tell them the truth. That would bring up far more questions than she was able to answer, and frankly, Mr. Park would be horrified to learn that she had stayed this long at a man’s house. He was very understanding about many things, but there were a few issues on which he was quite old-fashioned. Meijeong took a deep breath and pressed Sun-mi’s number. The phone rang a few times, with some silly little jingle that Sun-mi had custom added to the wait tone, but finally, she picked up.

“Mei!” Sun-mi’s cheerful voice rang out, “You know they invented this thing called text messaging; you don’t have to call me every time you need something.” She laughed and Meijeong rolled her eyes.

“Haha, well, maybe I just like to hear your voice,” she teased, smiling. Even through the phone, Sun-mi’s positivity was infectious.

“Awww, you’re falling for me,” Sun-mi giggled, “That’s so cute, but you should know, I have a new boyfriend.”

“Damn, there goes my chance…” Meijeong said, “At least until next week when you dump him.”

Haha,” said Sun-mi sarcastically, “Anyways, what’s up?”

“Yeah…” Meijeong’s throat grew tight and she felt decidedly nauseous, “Sun-mi, I’m so sorry to ask you for this, but can you cover my shift tonight? There’s… a family emergency and I can’t make it in.” Meijeong rolled to her side and pulled her knees to her chest to lay curled up in a ball.

“Mei, I can’t! I was going to see Zen’s show tonight!” Sun-mi exclaimed, and Meijeong felt a sudden oppressive swell of guilt, “You were going to meet me there afterwards and introduce me, remember?”

“That’s tonight!?” she said, sitting up suddenly. Meijeong squeezed the leather of the couch in her hand as her conversation with Zen in the chat earlier replayed in her head.

“Yes!” Sun-mi sounded so disappointed, and Meijeong swallowed hard, “Don’t tell me you forgot?”

“Right… Shit…” Meijeong took a deep breath, her head starting to spin just a bit, “Shit… I’m so sorry,” She swallowed again, trying to think of a solution that would work for everyone but unable to focus on more than choking out a few words. “I just… shit. Fuck! I’m so sorry…”

“Hey… Mei…” Sun-mi said, “Are you okay?”

“What?” The question snapped Meijeong back into focus for a brief moment, “Yeah, of course I am! Why wouldn’t I be? Haha… I just… shit…” Her voice faded out.

“You don’t sound okay… “ said Sun-mi, and her concern filled Meijeong with intense, burning guilt.

“I’m fine, really,” lied Meijeong, “Just a little flustered, haha.” The words tasted like bile in her mouth.

“Listen, Meijeong, don’t worry about it, okay?” Sun-mi said, “I don’t know what happened, but just… go be with your family, take care of whatever’s going on. I can handle your shift tonight, and if you need me to take any others, just let me know, mmkay?” Sun-mi finished cheerfully, but there was still that worry, worry, worry hidden behind the brightness.

“Sun-mi…” Meijeong sighed, rubbing her eyes and finding tears that she didn’t realize had formed, “Thank you. I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

“You would do the same thing for me,” Sun-mi said, “You’ve already done the same thing for me. I owe you! So don’t worry about it!”

“Thank you…” Meijeong said, rambling a bit. “I’ll introduce you to Zen the next chance I get. We’ll all go get drinks… uh, err, coffee, you’re too little-“

“Little! Meeeiiii!” Sun-mi pouted.

“I’ll have him perform a little mini concert for you or something,” Meijeong laughed, wiping away the last of her tears, “It’ll be great.”

“Okay!” said Sun-mi, “But don’t worry about it too much, kay?”

“I’m okay, I promise. I’ll talk to you later…” Meijeong paused, taking a deep breath, “Thanks again.”

“Yep! Bye-bye!”

“Bye,” Meijeong set down her phone and pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. For a moment, she distracted herself by looking out the window. The grey skies looked dreary and cold, and Meijeong could help but relate. Looking down, she realized she had been touching and tracing her scars, almost unconsciously.

“I’m really not okay, huh?” she asked the rhetorical question to no one in particular.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Yoosung*: All anyone could talk about in class yesterday was Jumin

Yoosung*: it was either gossip about the engagement

Yoosung*: Or laughing that he was putting out such extreme adds to find Elizabeth T_T

Jaehee Kang: I have to admit

Jaehee Kang: if I wasn’t Mr. Han’s assistant, I would think the same thing if I saw those adds

MC: Hey Yoosung

MC: Hey Jaehee

Yoosung*: Meijeong!!

Yoosung*: Did Jumin find Elizabeth yet?

MC: No T_T

MC: He’s off to talk to security again

MC: But I doubt she’s still in the area if we haven’t found her by the building by now

Yoosung*: Yeah…

Yoosung*: She’s a very unique breed, so someone might have taken her home

MC: well, hopefully they’ll see the ads then

Jaehee Kang: The ads are everywhere… it’s been quite the hassle setting them up

Yoosung*: T_T Jaehee…

Jaehee Kang: By the way, Meijeong

Jaehee Kang: the way you said that

Jaehee Kang: Are you still at Mr. Han’s penthouse?

MC: yeah

MC:

MC: Yes

Jaehee Kang: I thought you had work today…?

MC: I do

MC: or

MC: I did

Yoosung*: Are you staying to help find Elizabeth?

Jaehee Kang: You hate calling off work…

Jaehee Kang: I know you want to help

Jaehee Kang: But I’m sure things will go smoothly even if you’re not there to help for a few hours at least;;

MC: That’s…

MC: I haven’t been helping search at all

MC: at least not physically

Yoosung*: o_O ??

Jaehee Kang: So that means…

MC: Jumin won’t let me leave the penthouse.

MC: I haven’t been able to so much as leave the building since I got here.

Jaehee Kang: O_O

Yoosung*: What??

Yoosung*: He’s not letting you leave?

Yoosung*: OnO !!

Jaehee Kang: oh my

Jaehee Kang: I thought it was strange, that you had stayed there so long

Jaehee Kang: But I know how seriously you take helping your friends so I hadn’t thought anything off it

MC: Yeah

Yoosung*: I know he’s upset about Elizabeth

Yoosung*: but that’s just too much

MC: Yeah ;;

MC: I know but

MC: I don’t really know what to do about it

MC: I feel so bad for him

Jaehee Kang: still…

Jaehee Kang: You’re okay, right?

MC: hahaha

MC: of course. Why wouldn’t I be?

Jaehee Kang: Well…

Yoosung*: I mean

Yoosung*: A man and a woman… living in the same house together…

Yoosung*: ;;;

Jaehee Kang: I had a bad feeling about the fact you were there for so long…

Jaehee Kang: He hasn’t done anything… untoward to you, has he?

MC: What?

MC: No, hahahahaha

MC: You guys sound like Zen

Yoosung*: still…

Yoosung*: If he’s not letting you leave

Yoosung*: Maybe it’s because Jumin actually has feelings for you?

Jaehee Kang: Normally, I would say that Mr. Han is incapable of developing those sorts of feelings for someone

Jaehee Kang: But given how bizarre his behavior has been of late…

MC: lololol

MC: That’s ridiculous

MC: I’m fine

MC: lol

Jaehee Kang: If you say so…

707 has entered the chatroom.

MC: SEVEN!

MC: hey!

707: akdnavlsdmjng;

707: so tired…

707: I haven’t slept in so long

707: T_T

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: Seven…

Jaehee Kang: Have you still not found the hacker then?

707: noooo;;

MC: I’m so sorry Seven

MC: work for the agency is still bad too?

707: ya

707: Meijeong, you’re still at Jumin’s?

MC: Yeah T_T

Yoosung*: We might have to go and rescue her if Jumin won’t let her go

MC: I think that might be a bit much;;

707: She’s safe there.

707: Until I catch the hacker…

707: Maybe it’s for the best

MC: oh…

Jaehee Kang: That is true but…

Jaehee Kang: Is it really okay for Mr. Han to keep her locked up like that?

Yoosung*: Yeah!!

Yoosung*: Hacker or no hacker

Yoosung*: Jumin can’t just force Meijeong to leave her life on hold

MC: Yeah… I had to miss work today

Jaehee Kang: Maybe I should come to the penthouse

Jaehee Kang: And help talk some sense into Mr. Han

Jaehee Kang: Forcing you to miss work is just too much;;

707: I dunno

707: This way, I don’t have to worry about Meijeong

707: I can focus on catching the hacker

707: Instead of constantly watching security cameras

707: And worrying

707: And wanting to call her every five minutes

707: T_T

MC: Seven…

MC: You don’t need to worry about me THAT much

707: can’t help it.

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: Seven’s in charge of security

Yoosung*: of course he’s worried

Jaehee Kang: I think the best solution would be to contact V and see about declassifying the apartment address

Jaehee Kang: Then Meijeong could have extra security like the rest of us

707: I’ve been trying to get in touch with V

707: But he’s not answering my calls T_T

Yoosung*: >:(

Yoosung*: V… what is he even doing?

Yoosung*: He can’t even be bothered to answer a phone

Yoosung*: How’s he supposed to lead RFA like that?

MC: Jumin wouldn’t even let me go to work with security guards.

MC: I don’t think he’ll even wants me to leave the building right now

MC: that’s not V’s fault

Yoosung*: but still…

Jaehee Kang: I’ll stop by the penthouse tonight

Jaehee Kang: And try and help you talk sense into Mr. Han, Meijeong

Jaehee Kang: This is just too much

MC: Thanks, Jaehee :)

Yoosung*: There’s a raid about to start in LOLOL

Yoosung*: Are you gonna be okay, Meijeong?

MC: lol of course Yoosung

MC: I’m fine

MC: just a little tired of being in one place ^^

Yoosung*: Okay

Yoosung*: bye!

Jaehee Kang: I have more work to do

Jaehee Kang: U_U //

Jaehee Kang: I’ll see you tonight

MC: okay, take care Jaehee!

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

MC: Seven… I’m worried about you

MC: When was the last time you ate anything?

MC: or slept?

707: uuuuugggghhh

707: I’ve eaten plenty of Honey Buddha Chips and Dr. Pepper

707: It’s enough to keep me moving

707: I might try and take a nap while Ms. Vanderwood isn’t here

MC: lol

MC: Don’t want the vacuum waking you up?

707: yeah lolol

707: she’ll nag me if she catches me sleeping on the job

MC: your maid is so fierce

707: ya

707: very scary

707: so I have to go

MC: so soon;;?

707: ya

707: I have a lot to do

MC: okay…

707:

707: Mei… be safe, alright?

707: I know it must be hard to be stuck at Jumin’s place but…

707:

707: just stay where you’re safe

MC: oh

MC: I know it’s safe from the hacker here but…

MC:

707: take care

MC: bye…

707 has left the chatroom.

 

The fish tank bubbled in the corner and Meijeong sighed. Feeling antsy, she stretched her arms out in front of her and stood up, pacing around the penthouse. She paused momentarily in front of the bookshelf, running her hands down the hardcover spines, when suddenly her phone rang.

It was Jumin, apologizing for his continued absence. Apparently, there was an issue with the ads he was running for Elizabeth and he was going to have to run down to the TV station himself to get it sorted out. As an apology, he had set up a bit of a ‘spa day’ for Meijeong on another floor of the building, but she politely declined, saying that she preferred to remain in the apartment and get more work done for the RFA fundraiser.

It was a lie, mostly- she had already done most of what she could for that earlier, but she didn’t feel comfortable accepting anymore ‘gifts’ from Jumin today. Jumin didn’t seem to notice and accepted her excuse without question, promising to make it up to her with dinner that night.

She had barely hung up the phone when it rang again. This time it was Zen, who was in a panic over the conversation in the messenger and Meijeong’s current predicament. She barely managed to stop him from storming the building himself by reminding him that Jaehee was coming that night to help her.

“Besides,” said Meijeong seriously, “If you were to get into a fight with Jumin right before your final performance for this show, I’d feel really guilty.”

“Still…” Zen sighed, “I know you’re probably right… Just be careful around him. When he’s acting like this, who knows what kind of strange things he might try and do to you.”

“Seriously Zen, it’s okay. He hasn’t done anything for you to be worried about,” Meijeong lied cheerfully, “And I’m sure I’ll go home tonight.”

“Ugh… alright,” said Zen, “I’m worried that you’re not being suspicious enough, though. Don’t forget that all men are wolves except me.”

“I won’t,” she laughed, “Now go get ready for your grand finale!”

“Will do. Talk to you later, babe.”

“Bye Zen.”

The day dragged on slowly. The only break in the monotony was when a maid stopped by to return Meijeong’s laundry. Meijeong almost died laughing when she saw that her old tee shirt and jeans and even underwear had been pristinely, expensively dry-cleaned. Still, the return of her clothes helped her make up her mind- she was going to leave once Jumin returned and Jaehee arrived no matter what.

Meijeong changed back into her own clothes, leaving the dress Jumin had bought her folded neatly on the bed, and began to pack up her few things. With time to kill, she tried to call Seven, but only got his voicemail. Presumably, work was still keeping him busy. She wasn’t sure exactly why, but it bothered her that Seven was so insistent on just accepting her near-captivity at Jumin’s. Yes, she was safe from the hacker here, but the hacker had shown no sign of themselves since the strange messages, and it seemed to her more and more likely that the situation was less serious than they all feared, perhaps even just some weird prank. To be honest, she was far more afraid of Jumin doing something bad than the hacker. There was no way for Seven to know that, of course; she hadn’t told the RFA that Jumin had kissed her, or that his encroachment into her personal space was becoming more and more threatening.

She didn’t want anyone to know about that because… well, Zen would absolutely lose his mind and the others would only worry more about something they couldn’t really do anything about. Getting angry at Jumin wouldn’t help anything. Besides, Meijeong still held onto the hope that Jumin was just confused about his emotions. There was nagging part of her brain, one that sounded a bit like Zen, that told her she needed to be more careful, but she squashed that voice down. Jumin was still a good person, even while this confused. He wouldn’t use force against her…

When Jumin finally returned that night, he looked exhausted. There was the faintest hint of dark circles under his eyes, and Meijeong found herself worried about how little sleep he must have been getting. He apologized profusely for making her wait.

“I ordered a bottle of wine and invited a chef,” said Jumin, “He should be here soon.”

“You don’t need to worry about me, Jumin,” Meijeong said, “I’m fine. You’re the one I’m worried about it. And Elizabeth…”

“We’ll find her,” Jumin replied, “I plan to increase the recompense by ten times if things get too delayed. If we can’t find her by tomorrow… it might be that someone else has taken her in. Maybe that’s for the best… It’s my fault that she left this house.”

“Jumin, you can’t blame yourself for that,” Meijeong said, “Yes, keeping her locked up was a bad idea, but you were doing what you thought was right. You can learn from it and be an even better pet owner in the future.”

There was a long pause; Jumin didn’t seem to have an answer for that. He frowned and his eyes were soft and sad for a moment. Once again, Meijeong felt a swell of pity for her confused friend.

“But…” Jumin began, “Meijeong. A lost cat won’t come back just because we’re sad… I’ve sent out ads to everywhere I can, and said I’ll recompense, so it’s only a matter of time until someone finds her. What’s important right now is us. I would do anything to make you smile.” He looked at her and frowned, as though only just now taking in her appearance. “What happened to the new dress I bought you? I can’t have you wearing the same clothes two days in a row, even if they have been cleaned.”

“Jumin…” Meijeong bit her lip, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for me… but shouldn’t I be going home now?”

“Go home…?” He seemed confused, “I guess I haven’t make myself clear enough yet.”

Meijeong’s heart sank at those words. She took a deep breath, willing herself to stay sensible and calm.

“I’m sorry, but I hope you stop thinking about going back home,” Jumin continued, “I don’t want to force you to stay here, but things are too dangerous outside. Those women might kidnap you.”

“Jumin, I think that’s a little farfetched-“

“And there’s the possibility that the hacker is still after you. I’ve finally found you, and I don’t want you to disappear from my eyes,” he said. Jumin stepped forward and took her hands, smiling in a way that didn’t look quite healthy or natural. “So quit thinking about leaving. If you did…”

Meijeong pulled her hands free and stepped back, “I’m not going to start living here just because things aren’t 100% safe. Nothing in life is 100% safe, but if you obsess over that then you’ll go insane.”

“I might go insane if something happened to you. I’d certainly send out wanted ads all over the country,” Jumin replied, “I’ll take you home once things are settled, so please bear with me.”

“I can’t stay here forever, no matter what dangers there may or may not be,” said Meijeong, “I don’t want to stay here forever.”

“Then just stay here for a day or two more, and I’ll try to settle things quickly,” Jumin said, “If you’re desperate for some fresh air and want to go outside, make sure to take me with you… But it shouldn’t ever be necessary to for you to go outside. I’m afraid that you will disappear forever if you leave my sight. Can you… understand how I feel?”

“I do understand…” Meijeong looked down and sighed, tucking her hair behind her ear, “But it all feels like I’m being imprisoned. It’s frustrating and I can’t stand it.”

“You’re still misunderstanding it. I wish you’d recognize my sincerity….” Jumin adjusted his cufflink, sighing, “Will time change your feelings? I don’t feel so good about this either… it does feel a bit as if I’ve locked you inside here…”

“If you don’t feel right about it, then you should let me leave!” Meijeong pleaded, grabbing Jumin’s wrist and looking into his eyes.

“It’s not possible right now,” replied Jumin firmly, but he wouldn’t look her in the eyes, “But I at least want you to be happy while you’re here.” He began extolling the many virtues of the building, listing of all the places she could visit and activities she could do without ever leaving. Some of them were places he had shown her already on their little shopping trip, but others Meijeong had no idea were there. None of it changed her mind about leaving in the slightest, of course. A gilded cage is still a cage.

“Jumin… it doesn’t matter how nice it is here. This isn’t right,” Meijeong said, picking up her bag, “You know this isn’t right. I’m going home, now.”

Stepping past him, Meijeong headed for the door. Suddenly, there was a rush of movement. Jumin’s hand slammed into the wall in front of her, stopping her in her tracks. Startled, she stumbled backwards, dropping her bag and nearly tripping. She would have fallen down had the wall not been directly behind her, as it were, Meijeong found herself standing pinned against the wall by Jumin, trying desperately not to panic as her chest tightened into a knot.

“Where are you going?” Jumin said angrily. His hands were clenched into fists and trembling. “I can’t understand why you’re rejecting me when I’m being so considerate. Can’t you be logical right now?”

“Jumin, that’s not it!” Meijeong’s voice shook, “I-“

“I want to protect you so badly. Why do you only want to escape from me?” His eyes were pitch black and his nose flared as he inhaled deeply, his mouth pressed into a hard line. “Will you disappear like Elizabeth once you leave this place?”

“Jumin… I wasn’t going to disappear,” said Meijeong. She took a deep breath and tried to speak evenly. “Let’s just calm down and take some time to talk about this.” She didn’t know what else to say. She didn’t know what else to do. She always hoped in a situation like this, she’d scream, yell, fight back, but this was Jumin, her friend. She didn’t want to hurt him… and another darker thought worried her. He reacted more aggressively the more she resisted… what would happen if she pushed him away…?

For a moment, there was silence save for their breathing. Jumin was almost panting, he was breathing so heavily. Meijeong’s breathing was lighter, fluttering, shallow, and she worried for a moment that her head would start spinning if something didn’t change. So she stared as calmly as she could at Jumin, wanting him to back off of his own accord. Finally, his gaze turned away.

“Fine…” he said, looking down, his demeanor softening as his fist unclenched and his posture relaxed. “Alright. I can give you however long you need to think this through. I will be patient until you open up everything to me. But please don’t try to run away. The outside world is too dangerous for you… I want to protect you. As long as you are here… I’ll try to be calm. I’ll think about my own feelings and my possessiveness. And what is truly best for you. Meijeong… It’ll take time, but I will convince you. If anything is uncomfortable for you, I’ll consider adjusting it. I want to own you completely right now… but as precious as you are to me, I don’t want to ruin the right order of things.”

Reaching up with his free hand, he ran his fingers through her hair, causing Meijeong to flinch away.

“Jumin, you’re too close,” she said, turning her face away as far as she could, “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Oh now… “ Jumin said, frowning. “I’ve blocked a lady’s way… My mistake. I apologize if I surprised you too much.” He took a step back, but his hand stayed far too close, slipping up towards her face…

Unable to hold back any longer, Meijeong slapped his hand away and grew angry. “Of course I was surprised,” she said with the hint of a snarl, “Don’t ever do that again!” Her brow furrow and her eyes flashed angrily, and finally, Jumin seemed to realize he had gone too far.

“I apologize… I was too emotional. I was only nervous that I might lose you…” He stepped back further, giving her enough space to step away from the wall. “I am sorry. Feel safe here.”

“Jumin, if you’re really sorry, then let me leave!” Meijeong raised her voice now, but she didn’t have the courage to make for the door again.

“The two things aren’t related…” Jumin said, “You won’t be able to leave… but just know that I don’t mean to lock you inside. Please get comfortable living here until things are resolved. I trust that you know my sincere intentions…”

“Jumin, I know you mean well, but that doesn’t make this okay-“

“I wish you’d be as desperate as I am…” he interrupted, almost soliloquizing in how little head he paid her reaction, “But I suppose that’s not the case. I’m barely keeping myself from getting anxious over you. I want to protect you from everything… I wish I could write my name all over your body… I want to leave a mark on you so that everyone knows you’re mine. You won’t understand how I feel…”

“That’s not how a healthy relationship works, Jumin,” Meijeong said, frowning, “One person doesn’t get to decide everything and control the other one.”

“I’m… trying my best not to get so possessive,” he said apologetically, “I know that our relationship needs time. Trust will be acquired with time, which we have plenty. I am sure that eventually, your body and heart will become perfectly mine.” There was almost a faint hint of a blush on his face now, and it made Meijeong even angrier than before.

“I don’t belong to anyone!” she snapped, “I’m not your pet! I’m not…” Her voice dropped off, a sort of horrible sinking feeling in her gut, “…a replacement for Elizabeth… am I?”

“Of course not. I know that you are a human, not a cat,” said Jumin, brushing her comment off, with a casual sort of shrug an adjusting of his suit, “But soon you’ll realize that you’re biggest happiness is being beside me.”

There was a knock on the door, breaking up some of the tense pressure in the air. For a brief moment, Meijeong’s heart leaped at the idea that Jaehee had finally come to help her get out of there, but it was a short-lived hope.

“Ah, that’s the chef,” smiled Jumin, “Why don’t you go change for dinner?”

“No, I don’t think so,” Meijeong said, her brow furrowed. “I’m more comfortable like this.”

Despite his obvious displeasure with her refusal, Jumin didn’t push the subject further. Instead, he opened the door and allowed the chef and several wait staff to wheel in several carts of food, flowers, and wine. If they noticed the obvious tension in the room, they send nothing, and soon, Meijeong found herself sitting across from Jumin and eating veal while a violinist played a soft melody. Jumin chattered on cheerfully for some time, commenting on every aspect of the meal, filling the silence with compliments and suggestions for future plans.

“This music, these fresh flowers, this perfectly paired wine, and you in front of my eyes… You are beautiful throughout, but it’s the details that get me,” He blushed again, smiling gently at her, “Oh, I’m sorry if I’ve made you uncomfortable. I’m just so happy. I got a bit too excited just now.”

“…Thank you for this nice meal,” Meijeong replied noncommittally, unwillingly to play nicely along with his little fantasies anymore after the violent outburst earlier. 

“You’re still upset. Please, just be patient with me. If I can get my father is back on my side just like before…” Jumin took a delicate bite of the food, pausing to chew thoughtfully, “Those women won’t be able to bother me any further. And they’ll never be able to touch you. Everything will go back to how they were once we find Elizabeth the 3rd, the hacker threat is gone, and those women are no longer around us.”

Meijeong said nothing. She picked at the food, pushing it around on her plate but hardly eating. Her eyes drifted over the perfectly cooked meal with dull disinterest. Even is she wasn’t angry, she didn’t have much of an appetite, her stomach stilled tied in knots with worry over Jumin’s outburst from earlier. There was a long, awkward pause, thankfully lessened by the violin music drifting through the air.

“I have been thinking more about Elizabeth the 3rd…” Jumin said finally. He set down his fork and knife and looked at her empty cage sadly, “She ran away from me… because I was the problem.”

Meijeong looked up, startled by the sudden confession. Before she could reason with him or explain cat behavior, Jumin continued.

“When she comes back… I plan to give her back to V.”

“Back to…?” Meijeong frowned, confused.

“V and Rika gave her to me as a gift. I know that V would be a good owner…” Jumin smiled sadly, turning away from the cage to face Meijeong again, “I want her to be cared for by someone who can truly love her as a cat.”

“Jumin…”

“I expected too much of Elizabeth the 3rd from the very start.” He continued, his voice distant and flat now, “A cat is just a cat. No matter how much love I give her, how much I try to make her understand me… she can only understand a part of me.”

“So what if she only understands a part of you?” Meijeong blurted out without thinking. Jumin looked at her, surprised and confused, and she stumbled over the words, embarrassed. “Uh… I mean… well…” She took a deep breath and started over. “I think you’re thinking about this too black and white. Having someone you can rely on to just understand even a small part of you can make a world of difference. It can be a relief, to be able to reach out to them, for more light-hearted things. Just because they don’t know everything doesn’t mean they can’t still be important parts of your life.”

She thought about Sun-mi as she spoke. When it came down to it, the bubbly teenage girl didn’t know that much about Meijeong’s life, not really. Only bits and pieces. They were friends, certainly, and she valued her relationship with the girl a great deal, but they weren't... close, and one day, they might drift out of each other’s lives. It was very different from her relationship with Subin. And yet, Sun-mi always brightened Meijeong’s day, and as flighty as Sun-mi was, she was there for Meijeong today in a big way. Just because they didn't know everything about each other didn't make the friendship any less important. 

Jumin looked puzzled by Meijeong’s comments and she realized that his logical mindedness might be getting in the way here. She sighed, and Jumin tilted his head.

“I’m sorry. I’m not explaining it properly,” said Meijeong, biting her lip. “It’s one of those emotional things that I have a hard time explaining logically.”

“I think, perhaps I see what you’re trying to say,” Jumin said, furrowing his brow thoughtfully, “But in truth, that’s why having you by my side is so different than Elizabeth the 3rd. Unlike a cat, you understand my emotions and respond.”

“I would argue that cats and other pets are certainly capable of responding to human emotions, but-“ Meijeong interjected, chuckling a bit to herself, but seemed not to notice.

“I never thought in my wildest dreams,” he continued, “That I would ever meet someone who’d understand me completely and whom I would be able to own… You are completely different from all the woman my father has met. Isn’t it a miracle that I managed to find someone so innocent and understanding as you?”

“Jumin, I think the one being misunderstood here is me-“ Meijeong tried to explain, but he simply continued his speech in a sort of happy glow.

“I never needed a cat,” Jumin finished, “I just needed a special person like you.”

“That doesn’t mean you should just give Elizabeth away,” Meijeong said, tactically avoiding the discussion of her supposed romantic ‘belonging’ to Jumin for the moment, “The two things aren’t mutually exclusive. You adored her, and Jumin… you’re someone who has enough room in your heart and your life for more than one love. That’s like saying you can’t care about the RFA and your company at the same time.”

“As I’ve said… I can’t truly treat Elizabeth the 3rd as a pet. I’m not capable of being the owner she needs,” Jumin said, disagreeing, “If she ran away from me… then I’m sure she’ll be happier by V’s side.”

“Why don’t you wait until the situation with the engagement is resolved before you make any decisions,” said Meijeong, “You’re dealing with a lot right now… it may be you aren’t thinking about this as clearly as you should be.”

“I don’t think the two things are related…” Jumin paused, “But I see your point. You’re so understanding… I wish my father could see my wants and needs the way you do. I thought he and I had an understanding but… I suppose I was wrong.”

“You know…” Meijeong began, cautiously, “I went through something like that, with my parents.”

Jumin looked up at her, eyes wide. “Oh?”

“It wasn’t quite the same situation but...” Meijeong thought of how to phrase it, “The emotions were the same. We didn’t agree on everything, of course, but we understood each other’s difference, but then… something changed… and suddenly we just couldn’t see eye to eye on things that were really important.” Under the table, where she knew Jumin couldn’t see, she trace her hand along the scars on her arm.

“That’s it exactly,” said Jumin, “I never agreed with my father’s dating habits, but it made him happy, and so I let it be. I thought my father understood that those same things didn’t make me happy, but now…”

“Have you tried telling him that?”

“Perhaps not as straightforwardly as I should…” said Jumin. “I don’t know if it will matter though. He completely loses his head when it comes to being in love. He may not listen to reason if Glam Choi continues to whisper contradictions in his ears.”

“Would it hurt to try though?” said Meijeong, “Your father and you sound a lot a like, you know.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

“I mean…” Meijeong took a deep breath, “Think about what you’ve been telling me, about how anxious and confused you feel when you think about me. How desperate you feel… Maybe he feels the same way about Glam Choi.”

“His feelings are directed to a much less worthy woman,” said Jumin bitterly, but Meijeong pressed on.

“But love… isn’t always very logical,” said Meijeong, “You and he both get so intense in your emotions when you find it that you don’t always think things through. Like earlier today.”

Jumin was silent now, thinking hard.

“If you try and think about it that way, then maybe you can understand each other again?” Meijeong finished, peering at Jumin carefully.

He sighed. “I don’t know that it’s possible to reason with him when he’s so in love with that woman. I can understand the emotions, I suppose, but the poor choice…” He smiled at Meijeong. “Thank you, for trying to help with that situation, even though it’s unnecessary for you to do so. And… thank you… for trying to understand me…”

“Of course,” said Meijeong, finally smiling, “Jumin, the reason I came here was to help you figure this out.”

“To return your kindness…” he paused, then sighed, “I’ll try to make ensure your safety so that you can return as soon as possible. I’m sorry about earlier… I couldn’t control my emotions. I shouldn’t have blocked you and talked to you so forcefully.”

“Thank you, Jumin, for your apology,” said Meijeong. She was starting to feel a little better about the whole situation until Jumin continued.

“I don’t want to restrain you. That’s not very democratic. But I hope you don’t consider being here a restraint,” Jumin said, “I want to believe you’re still here… because you understand how much I worry.”

“Jumin, I know you’re worried, but I don’t feel any threat. So please…” Meijeong pleaded, reaching across the table to take his hand, “Let me go home tomorrow.”

“You shouldn’t think lightly of all the threats around us right now. I know you have to return to the apartment soon anyways because of the party, so I’ll make sure you can return as soon as possible,” Jumin said, “In the mean time, don’t be anxious and just relax.”

“I’m not just anxious because of the party, I’m anxious because you’re forcing me to miss important parts of my life.”

“There’s nothing more important than safety,” Jumin countered, and Meijeong bit her lip in frustration, “The place you’re returning to is a secret location, so I won’t be able to send my bodyguards… but I’ll call V and figure something out. How about… you return home the day after tomorrow and not tomorrow?” He smiled, thinking his solution to be perfect, but then looked confused at Meijeong frustrated expression.

“Jumin, no,” Meijeong said firmly, “I’m going to walk out of this place on my own tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry, but you won’t be able to,” said Jumin, and his expression had a hint of chill to it again, “If you’re angry that you can’t prepare for the party without the materials in Rika’s apartment… Let’s talk about how far along the preparations are once we finish eating. We’ll manage to find a solution. I’ve already held the party twice, so I’ll be able to help you.”

“That’s not-“

“But…” he continued, “Until I’m able to let you return, please remain in this building and be safe.”

Meijeong was opened to get angry again, but they were interrupted by a knock on the door. Jumin stood up immediately, looking relieved at the chance to end the conversation, and opened the door to a security guard. Meijeong felt a surge of relief- Jaehee must have arrived. Or perhaps someone found Elizabeth… She turned in her chair to get a better view of the conversation.

“Mr. Han, sir…”

“Yes, what is it?”

“Chief Assistant Kang is here to see you, sir,” replied the security guard, and Meijeong sighed a bit more loudly than she intended.

“I can’t see her right now,” said Jumin dismissively, “Tell her to send me an email if she needs anything.”

“Yes, sir.”

Meijeong’s heart sank, and she rushed over to the door, stopping Jumin from closing it just yet. “Jaehee said in the messenger that she was coming here…” she blurted out, perhaps a little over eagerly, “I really wanted to talk to her. Can’t we see her, even just briefly?" 

“Don’t worry,” said Jumin, closing the door as he spoke, and waving for Meijeong to follow him back to the dinner table, “She’ll email about things she really needs. I don’t want anyone to interfere with this perfect moment. I want to focus on you. We will continue our dinner… I’ll have to check the dessert menu." 

The dinner continued with silence on Meijeong’s part, though Jumin continued to talk enough for her, peppering the ‘conversation’ with compliments and extolling the virtues of staying in the building. Finally, Meijeong could take no more and excused herself.

“I’m very tired, Jumin,” she said, “It’s been a long day, and I want to talk to Jaehee and apologize before it gets too much later.”

“Of course,” said Jumin, “I apologize for keeping you up so late. Tomorrow, we’ll have an earlier dinner.”

Meijeong didn’t bother to tell him contradict him. Instead, she went into the bedroom and closed the door behind her. It was the first time she found herself wishing the door could be locked, but there wasn’t a way, and so far, Jumin seemed to respect her privacy when it came to having this one small part of the penthouse to herself. For now. If this keeps escalating... She brushed the fear aside and focused on the task at hand.

Jaehee didn’t pick up, however, and Meijeong worried that perhaps she was still downstairs, attempting to reason her way past the guards. But a thought had occurred to Meijeong during her discussion with Jumin at dinner, and she wanted to make sure Jaehee heard from her. She left a message on her voicemail.

“Jaehee, I’m okay for tonight, so please don’t worry about me and get some rest. And also… I’ve been thinking about it… I think we’ve been going about this all wrong. Maybe going after Sarah was the wrong move. I don’t think we’ll get anywhere with Mr. Han until he thinks that Glam Choi is deceiving him some how. Unless we can find evidence of that, he’ll probably forgive anything Sarah does wrong and keep forcing her on Jumin because his love Glam tells him to. Like father like son… they let themselves be completely blinded to any facts or logic in order to satisfy the object of their affections. Sarah isn’t important, not really. Glam Choi is. Find something on her, something the Chairman will believe without doubt, and we fix this… I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Please get some rest and don’t worry about me. Good night.”

Chapter Text

There was a part of her that considered leaving in the middle of the night- grabbing her things, fleeing in the darkness the second Jumin drifted off to sleep in the chair in the living room, book laying open against his chest. But Meijeong knew that not only would disappearing like that destroy Jumin, it would also be extremely risky. Hacker or no hacker, a young woman trying to find her way home across the city by herself at three in the morning was not smart or safe. So instead, she watched from the bedroom door as Jumin slept ungracefully sprawled back in the armchair in a position that could not be doing good things to his neck. Cautiously, she crept forward, not wanting to wake him. 

The title of the book on his lap was obscured by his arm, which was draped across it. Never the less, Meijeong could tell that it was unique. The book was leather bound and old, but clean and well maintained. She didn’t recognize the cover as being any she had seen in the bookstore, but that didn’t particularly surprise her. A book this old was either not in demand or reprinted many times with a series of increasingly varied (and possibly hideously movie-based) covers. Jumin’s chest lifted the book up and down as he breathed steadily. Meijeong debated covering him with a blanket, but if he woke up…

Sighing, Meijeong padded back to the bedroom silently, closing the door behind her as quietly as possible. She hated the way Jumin had forced her to think about him- as a threat, as someone to be cautious around, but she didn’t hate him for that. He was lost and confused and needed help. (Her old therapist’s voice rang out in her brain, reminding her that bad circumstances and poor mental health do not excuse bad behavior, but Meijeong pretended not to hear that worrisome truth). She didn’t hate Jumin, but… she was afraid of him. That was the biggest problem. She was afraid now, barely holding the fear and panic in check, and she was most afraid that if she stayed in the penthouse any longer, Jumin was going to give her a reason to hate him. She was afraid that he would do something that…

Tightness in her chest made it hard to breath for a moment and Meijeong curled up in a ball on the bed, holding herself tightly. Her long hair draped over her shoulders and covered parts of her face like it was some sort of shield. She picked up her phone. In the dark bedroom, the screen’s brightness was radiated out in a sort of sick glow… or maybe she was just projecting her own feelings. The room felt both small and confining and yet somehow… empty. Normally, before all this soap opera drama started, when Meijeong spent the night at Jumin’s, Elizabeth the 3rd came in and curled up beside her, purring softly in her sleep at the crook on of Meijeong’s knees. But now… who knew where Elizabeth might be, if even Seven couldn’t find her…

Meijeong’s chest gave a funny sort of twinge when she thought of Seven. He seemed to think she was safe here, since there was no chance of any mysterious hacker reaching her, but… 

“I’m not safe here now…” Meijeong whispered to herself in the dark, and the words hurt more to say out loud. With a strange burst of… courage was not the right word… mild to moderate decisiveness, perhaps; Meijeong called Seven, unsure even of what she would say to him if he answered.

“Beep… beep… you have one percent battery life left…” Seven said in a robot voice, “Beep beep beep...”

“Oh no,” Meijeong whispered, “Charge, God Seven, your disciple needs you.”

“Beeeeeep~ Charging disabled. Charging disabled,” he cackled, then sighed, “I really wish I could recharge myself like a battery. So that I can just plug myself onto the wall and continue working… I have so much work… It’s endless…” He sighed again, sounding quite exhausted, and Meijeong felt bad for having disturbed him at all.

“Nooo… Seven-Zero-Seven, think energizing thoughts. Space stations, cats,” Meijeong kept her voice low, but she couldn’t help but laugh a little as she ran down a list of everything that came to mind, “Thunderstorms, Honey Buddha chips, sports cars, uhhmmm… Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens,” She chuckled at her own joke, “Fireworks, snow, puppies“

“And kitties” interjected Seven brightly, and Meijeong laughed for real now, though she kept her voice hushed.

“I already mentioned cats twice,” she teased, “Pay attention, Luciel.”

“Ughh… I don’t have any energy left in me to pay attention… to do anything…” He groaned, and Meijeong heard a strange sound that seemed to be his head dropping onto a keyboard, “I have the cape… I have the mask… but no energy… I’d feel much better if I could just take out my babe for a drive… I’m sorry… I can’t even joke around right now. I’m done for!!”

“You and me both,” said Meijeong, sighing.

“Hmmm…” Seven paused, and Meijeong heard him groan and stretch, “I feel more awake now after talking to you on the phone. I seriously had to tape my eyelids to keep them open until now… It’s so late! You shouldn’t be up this late too. Don’t be like me.”

“Yeah... probably not, but…” Her energy was fading, but just hearing his voice was enough to make it easier to breath. Unable to think of how to continue and unwilling to bring up why she really called, Meijeong thought of the old book Jumin held and blurted out, “Do you like fairy tales?”

Seven laughed, “Yeah I do. I actually have a fairy tale book, one for children…” He paused, and there was a strange sort of wistfulness to his voice, “It’s one of my most important possessions." 

“Really?” Meijeong sat up, curious, then stifled her voice when she realized how loud she had been, “Which one is you favorite?” She crossed her legs beneath her and brushed back her hair.

“Well…” Seven laughed awkwardly, “I haven’t actually read them in a long time…”

“That’s a shame… even as much as I read, fairy tales will always be my favorite. Especially a lot of the ones people don’t know as much about, mostly because they weren’t made into Disney movies yet,” she laughed and paused smiling wistfully, “East of the Sun, West of the Moon or Donkeyskin, or The Black Bull of Norroway…” Meijeong heard him yawn over the phone, and she felt awkward all over again, “I’m sorry, you’re tired, and I’m babbling on…”

“Talking to you makes me feel better,” Seven replied, and it sounded like he was typing again, “Could you… do you just wanna keep on talking while I’m listening?”

“Yeah…” Meijeong smiled, “I feel better talking to you too…” She forced herself to sound more lighthearted, “It’s just sad that a lot of people grow up and don’t like fairy tales anymore. Or they think the only important ones are the “dark” versions,” Meijeong rolled her eyes, “People don’t appreciate them for what they are, or they’ve forgotten what they are and why they’re important. At the bookstore, kids will buy fairy tales books, or adults will buy them for kids as gifts, but except for one woman a few months back, it’s never adults buying them for themselves.” She laughed quietly as she thought of an idea. “Do you want me to tell you one? It’ll be like I’m reading to you, only from memory.”

“Yep! Then I can just recharge myself while hearing you talk and keep working,” replied Seven, and Meijeong heard the careful tapping of a keyboard.

“Any requests?" 

“Anything but Cinderella,” said Seven firmly. 

“Haha, okay,” Meijeong whispered, “Once upon a time…” She paused, unable to think of which story to tell. Her mind drifted… There was a fair maiden held captive in a tower… she thought, but couldn’t bring herself to say it out loud. 

“Why are you whispering so much?” said Seven, “Is Jumin sleeping?”

“Yes,” Meijeong felt her chest grow tight again, anxiety growing, and she stammered, “Well… I mean, yes, he is, but… that’s… not… why… I just…”

“Mei…?” For some reason, hearing Seven call her that hurt too, but in a different way that she couldn’t decipher.

“Can you keep a secret?”

“I love secrets!”

“You can’t… you can’t tell anyone… especially not Zen.”

“Oooh, alright,” Seven chuckled and the cheerful sound filled her with guilt.

“Okay,” Meijeong took a deep breath and sat up, pulling her knees to her chest, “Jumin… he… he’s not himself… I don’t want everyone to get angry at him, but… he- he kissed me.” There was an odd, strangled sort of gasp on the other end of the line, and Meijeong was worried that something had happened to him. “Seven? Are you okay?”

“No-yes-no… ughhh…” Seven stammered, “Yes. Why are you- why are you telling me this?”

“Because…” Meijeong choked on the words, “I’m scared right now… I don’t- I told him I don’t feel that way and Jumin… I’m so afraid something is going to happen and I know you think I’m safer here than back at the apartment but I don’t feel safe anymore… Jumin… he’s not listening…” All the thoughts and fears that she had been suppressing came pouring out in an unstoppable tidal wave. “You can’t tell anyone. You can’t. They can’t get mad at Jumin because of me.”

“Mei…!”

“I just… you have to tell everyone the hacker is gone and it’s safe for me to go home. Or… that’s… not a good idea… I don’t know…” Meijeong realized her voice was getting loud, and she covered her mouth, taking deep breaths in through her nose. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her voice ragged with half-sobs, “I’m so sorry… I didn’t want to bother you when you have so much work… I didn’t know what else to do. Jumin’s not letting me leave, no matter what I do or say and I… You can’t tell the others, they’ll just get angry at Jumin and that won’t help anything… but Jumin’s upset and the way he’s acting I… I don’t know what’s going to happen…”

The pause felt like it stretched on for a lifetime, and Meijeong realized that there were tears in her eyes again. She opened her mouth to apologize for bothering him, to tell Seven to forget what she had said and just worry about his work, but- 

“And you think… I’m not angry…?” Seven’s voice was so low and quiet that Meijeong couldn’t hear was he said; only that he said something

“Seven...?” Meijeong listened hard, unable to quite make out what he was muttering. Feeling awkward, she stammered out more apologies, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have… you’re busy and-“

“Defender of Justice Seven-Zero-Seven has heard your cry for help!” Seven announced cheerfully, “Ka-chow! He is swooping into action immediately! Pow!" 

Seven’s sound effects continued, and Meijeong smiled, wiping the tears away.

“Thank you, Defender of Justice,” Meijeong said. As grateful as she was that he said he’d help, she was already feeling guilty about bothering him with more work. “I’m sorry… you have too much to deal with already… and Jumin will probably let me leave today so don’t worry about it too much…”

“The robot known as Jumin Han appears to be malfunctioning. So I shall call a mechanic,” replied Seven cheerfully.

“Okay, but… don’t overwork yourself…” Meijeong said, “If you were to get sick because of me… I wouldn’t forgive myself.“ 

“Yes…my battery just died… beeeeep…” said Seven dramatically, “No energy… But a Defender of Justice never gives up! So don’t worry about me…” he said, his tone suddenly serious, “You’ll be safe, I’ll make sure of it.” 

“I owe you one,” Meijeong said, and Seven laughed strangely. It almost had a bitter ring to it.

“You don’t owe me anything. The safety of RFA members is my job,” Seven replied, “I have to return to the world of darkness now, but I’ll make sure the world of light is safe for you!” 

“Alright… bye.”

“Goodbye.”

Even after hanging up, Meijeong refused to put the phone down. She curled up into a tight ball under the blankets and clutched the phone to her chest. Suddenly, she was exhausted. The relief of having finally told someone the truth about what was going on swept over her like the tide and her whole body felt heavy and tired. Without meaning to, Meijeong fell asleep, though it was so sudden that it felt more like passing out.

Chapter Text

“Meijeong…” Jumin said as she emerged from the bedroom, “It’s morning. Did you sleep well last night?”

“I slept just fine,” Meijeong lied, “I’m leaving today once I wake up more, alright?”

“Time flies so fast when I’m with you,” Jumin said, sighing and smiling wistfully as he handed her a cup of tea, “I could hardly sleep at the thought that you might one day leave this place. So please, let me know what I can do to make your stay happier.”

“You only want me to be happy on your terms,” Meijeong snapped, “You always do whatever you want, not what I want.”

“My desire to be kind to you is sincere, but I’m sad that it’s not being seen that way. But…” Jumin looked down, frowning, “Thank you for being honest with me.”

Meijeong sat down at the table, on the far side from Jumin, and cradled the teacup in her hands. Her hair fell into her face. “Honestly- I want to leave now. I think it’s safe enough,” she said grumpily, glaring at Jumin”

“I understand that you’re getting tired of staying at the same place the whole time…” Jumin frowned, “I’ll talk to V and Luciel or the bodyguards… there’s simply no way to send you back home while keeping the apartment location secret, so please be a bit more patient.”

Sipping her tea, Meijeong didn’t respond. Jumin watched her with a sort of sad look on his face, before sighing and stretching. He walked to the door, pausing to look back at her as his hand rested on the doorknob.

“I’ll go to the office now, Meijeong,” Jumin said, adjusting his cufflinks, “Please call me if anything happens.”

“You should try talking to your father again today,” Meijeong called out. She set down her tea and stood up, straightening her hair. She bit her lip, frowning, “I know you think it’s hopeless, but… if you explain your feelings to him the way you explained them to me, then maybe…”

Jumin smiled, softer and more natural than before. “When you say that, I almost believe it might be possible…”

“You might be impossibly frustrating right now, Jumin,” Meijeong said, crossing her arms and sighing, “But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to help you.”

Jumin took a step towards her, but stopped when she tensed and stepped backward. His smile turned in a puzzled, sad frown, and he left without another word.

Meijeong sat back down to finish her tea, and opened up the RFA app, where she found a string of new emails from potential party guests. There were only a few more weeks until the Christmas Party, and there were still a few guests who were on the fence about attending, plus a few new ones who were curious about what to expect. Answering that question was a bit hard for Meijeong, since she wasn’t entirely sure for herself. She opened the chatroom, but no one was there at the moment.

Sighing, Meijeong finished her tea and got dressed, packing up her belongings as she went. It occurred to her that there might be information on previous Christmas fundraisers in the apartment, and she was no longer willing to wait for the ‘right’ moment to leave Jumin’s.

At the door, she slipped on her shoes and yanked on her jacket before taking a deep breath. Her hand paused a moment, hovering just over the doorknob. Summoning her courage, Meijeong bit her lip and swung the door opened, practically plowing into the back of a security guard in her haste to storm out the door.

“Ah- I’m so sorry,” Meijeong stumbled back a step and just avoided hitting the guard, “I didn’t realize you were standing there.”

“Oh, Miss Chen…” the guard, a younger man not much older than her, looked at her jacket and her bag and frowned, “Were you planning on going somewhere…?”

“Yes, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to return home,” Meijeong said, moving to step around him, but the guard blocked her way.

“Miss Chen…” The guard frowned, “We’ve been told not to allow anyone in or out of the building with out direct permission from Mr. Han." 

“Listen, I know you’re just doing your job, but I’m leaving now,” Meijeong said firmly, standing her ground and staring hard at the guard, “So unless your orders are to stop me by force…” Her voice trailed off in horror as she saw the uncomfortable, pitying look on the guard’s face.

“Miss Chen, please,” the guard repeated. He seemed almost ashamed. “We’re under orders. We can’t allow you to leave.”

“Oh.” Meijeong took a step back into the room and let her bag drop from her shoulder to the floor. She stared blankly, the ‘oh’ quietly frozen on her face.

“I apologize, Miss Chen,” the guard said and slowly closed the door, as if he couldn’t bear to look upon her distress.

Meijeong slumped to the floor, onto her knees.

“Oh,” she repeated.

Time passed strangely for a while, as Meijeong’s head juggled between stunned, silent shock and pounding, screaming panic. Eventually, she arrived at a sort of an uneasy mental balance. She took off her shoes before standing up and returning to the kitchen for more tea and a snack. She munched on some fancy crackers that Jumin had in the cupboard and opened the messenger app. To Meijeong’s relief, Jaehee was there now.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: Hey Jaehee!

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong

Jaehee Kang: I’m glad to see you here

Jaehee Kang: Are you alright?

MC: I’m fine for now

MC: I’m so sorry about last night

Jaehee Kang: I should be the one apologizing to you.

Jaehee Kang: I should have tried harder to get to you

MC: There was nothing more you could have done

MC: Jumin is completely stuck about this

Jaehee Kang: I did look into Glam Choi further, like you suggested

Jaehee Kang: And well

Jaehee Kang: I have a lead

MC: Really? That’s awesome!!

Jaehee Kang: I don’t want to say too much until I have more confirmation

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: But it might be enough to create distrust between the Chairman and Glam Choi

Jaehee Kang: I believe there is something major she has been hiding in regards to Sarah

MC: Jaehee, you’re incredible!

MC: Jumin, did you read what she said

Jumin Han: yes…

Jumin Han: It’s good news, if Assistant Kang’s lead pays out

Jumin Han: I won’t get my hopes up

Jaehee Kang: Yes, that may be wise

Jumin Han: I’m glad to see you in brighter spirits, however, Meijeong

MC: Right…

MC: I had some questions about the Christmas fundraiser event

MC: There are a few guests asking for information that I don’t know

V has entered the chatroom.

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang can answer any questions

Jaehee Kang: Of course, I’d be glad to help

MC: V’s here?

V: Hello everyone

V: I’m sorry I haven’t been around very much

Jumin Han: V

Jumin Han: It’s good to see you

Jaehee Kang: Hello V

V: Hello Jaehee, Meijeong

V: Jumin, I actually came to talk to you

V: I thought about calling, but I thought everyone should know

Jumin Han: Oh?

V: I found Elizabeth the 3rd

MC: What!?

MC: Really?

V: An old acquaintance of mine contacted me

V: They had found a cat, and seen the ads…

V: They knew that you and I were friends so they contacted me

MC: oh my god!

Jaehee Kang: OuO!!

Jaehee Kang: That’s fantastic!

Jaehee Kang: Thank god

MC: V, you’re incredible

MC: I can’t believe it

MC: We were all so worried

Jaehee Kang: Isn’t this wonderful Mr. Han?

Jumin Han: Yes

Jumin Han: I’m glad to here that Elizabeth the 3rd is safe

V: I was going to stop by your penthouse this evening and return her to you

MC: that would be great

V: Meijeong, you’re still at Jumin’s, right?

Jumin Han: Actually V

Jumin Han: I’ve come to a decision regarding Elizabeth the 3rd

Jumin Han: And I think it would be best if you keep her from now on

Jaehee Kang: OnO !!

Jaehee Kang: What??

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han…!

MC: Jumin…

MC: I think you’re making a mistake

Jumin Han: No

Jumin Han: I’ve been giving it a lot of thought

Jumin Han: And I think…

Jumin Han: That the fact that Elizabeth the 3rd ran away is proof that I’m not a suitable owner for her

V: Jumin…

V: I disagree

V: Why don’t we talk about this more tonight

MC: I agree with V

MC: I think you’re not thinking clearly about this

Jumin Han:

Jaehee Kang: Yes, this is very unlike you

Jumin Han: Perhaps

Jumin Han: I don’t have time to discuss it now

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang, are the notes ready for the meeting?

Jaehee Kang: Well, yes…

Jumin Han: Good, meet me in the conference room in 2 minutes

V: Jumin, you’re running away from the conversation?

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: I’ll talk to you later V

Jumin Han: Goodbye

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: I should leave as well

Jaehee Kang: It was nice to see you V

V: Of course, goodbye Jaehee

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

V: Meijeong…

V: Thank you for taking care of my friend

V: I understand he’s been giving you some trouble

MC: haha

MC: a bit, yes

MC: but I’m alright

MC: Jumin needed help, and I try and help my friends whenever I can

V: I wasn’t around to help him the way I should have been

V: But I’m going to do what I can now to help both of you

MC: Thank you, V.

MC: Please don’t feel guilty about being busy, though

MC: You’re obviously going through a lot

MC: And I know Jumin understands

V: … thank you, again

V: I’ll see you tonight

MC: Alright! I’m looking forward to meeting you

V: Me as well

V: Goodbye

MC: Bye

V has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

After lunch, Jumin called her.

“I just wanted to check in with you,” Jumin said, “The security team informed me that you tried to leave this morning.”

“Yes,” said Meijeong unapologetically.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that. If you’re feeling tired of being in the penthouse, I’ve told the guards that you have permission to visit the spa in the building.”

“Thank you, but no,” Meijeong said, then quickly changed the subject. “Are you really not going to take care of Elizabeth anymore?”

You know that this has been on my mind ever since she ran away… I still don’t know,” said Jumin, “I’m not confident I can take good care of her, so I want to give her back to V.”

“You can take good care of her,” Meijeong said, “You have, for so long. She’s your responsibility, and I know you think that you can treat her as a pet, but you can learn how to find that balance. I know you can…" 

“I’m not so sure… but as you said… it’s important for me to be responsible,” Jumin paused, sounding unsure, “I’ll think more about what to do today.”

“Good,” Meijeong said, “When V comes tonight, we can talk about Elizabeth more and-“

“But more importantly, I want to talk to V about the hacker and Luciel… and I want to check again whether your apartment has any more issues,” Jumin interrupted, “It’s my guess but the hacker is the one who led you to that apartment…”

He continued on about safety, how important it was for her to stay in the apartment and out of harm’s way, and how crazy he would go if something were to happen to her. Meijeong simply nodded, making the appropriate sounds of understanding as he continued on. It wasn’t important for her to say anything. Jumin wasn’t going to listen to her opinion on her safety anyway. She wondered briefly if Seven had found a way to convince him to let her leave and if that was also why V was returning so suddenly, but it seemed far to much of a coincidence that finding Elizabeth and freeing her could be related. Plus, Seven hadn’t said anything in the chatroom about it, and she kind of thought he would if he had a solution…

Eventually, Jumin finished his monologue about her safety and had to leave another meeting. Meijeong reminded him, once again, to try and speak to his father, but the advice seemed to fall on deaf ears.

After she hung up with Jumin, Meijeong realized that she never did get the information she needed about the Christmas fundraiser from him or Jaehee. Sighing, she ran her hand through her hair, pushing it back, and picked up her phone again. Jaehee wasn’t there, but Yoosung and Zen were.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Yoosung*: Meijeong!!

MC: Hey guys

MC: How’s it going?

ZEN: It’s a beautiful day now that you’re here

ZEN: ~* ^_^ *~

MC: I’m glad to see you guys too

MC: Did you see V was here?

ZEN: Yeah…

Yoosung*: I can’t believe Jumin doesn’t want to keep Elizabeth anymore

ZEN: I know…

ZEN: >_> ---

ZEN: Seriously, that guy…

MC: I was hoping that maybe when Elizabeth was found, Jumin would start acting a little more normal

MC: And at least let me go home but…

Yoosung*: OnO !!

Yoosung*: You still haven’t gone home Meijeong?

MC: No -__-

 

Yoosung was worried, and Zen was angry enough to storm the building himself. Meijeong couldn’t even imagine the fight that would break out if they knew the full extent of Jumin’s behavior. Meijeong tried to calm them both down by reassuring them that V would be there tonight, and there’s no way that V would let himself be stopped by security. She even got a laugh out of Zen by insisting that they really, really needed to go out for some drinks once she was set free. 

 

Yoosung*: Oh- Can I come too?

ZEN: Sure, why not?

ZEN: Will you be able to keep up though?

MC: Oh wow

MC: I keep forgetting you’re old enough to drink Yoosung

Yoosung*: ;; TnT ;;

Yoosung*: How old do you think I am?

ZEN: LOLOLOLOL

MC: I mean… I know you’re in university

MC: I just…

MC: Ahhh T_T

ZEN: It’s because you act so immature sometimes

ZEN: Stop playing games so much and take care of yourself

ZEN: Be serious about your schoolwork

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: I can’t believe it…

MC: I’m so sorry Yoosung T_T

ZEN: It’s not your fault Meijeong

 

ZEN posted a workout selfie in which he was, as usual, gorgeous even dripping with sweat (especially dripping with sweat). Meijeong giggled, grinning.

 

ZEN: You can’t help but see Yoosung as a child when compared to my absolute manliness

ZEN: My manly pheromones are so distracting

Yoosung*: >.<

Yoosung*: Zen!!

ZEN: I’m so handsome and so adult that I distort the truth

MC: lololol

MC: I don’t think that’s quite it

Yoosung*: Then what is it?

MC: uhh…

MC: Well

MC: Don’t you think it’s weird that Jumin doesn’t want to take care of Elizabeth anymore?

ZEN: lolol nice subject change

Yoosung*: T_T
Yoosung*: But you’re right

Yoosung*: I was just thinking about that too

 

The three of them talked until Zen had to leave for a post-show meeting with his director and Yoosung had to go to class. Meijeong found herself smiling a little bit more when the conversation was finished.

The day passed slowly- knowing that V would be there that evening to hopefully let her go home made time crawl along painfully. She did get to talk to Jaehee, who filled her in on the details she needed for the Christmas fundraiser, so she was able to occupy herself with emails for a bit.

Meijeong was reading an old book from Jumin’s collection when he finally got home that evening. It was not the book he had been clutching in his sleep last night- for some reason, she didn’t feel comfortable reading that one. Instead, she was flipping through a strange old book on vampires that appeared to be suggesting they were real and still alive in Romania…

“I’m really late, aren’t I?” said Jumin, hanging his jacket in the closet, “I wanted to leave ASAP but so many people held me back so it was difficult leaving the lobby. Gossip reporters were standing in line waiting for me in front of the building.”

“It’s fine,” Meijeong replied simply, returning the book to its place on the shelf.

“I think the media is still going crazy over my marriage, but with the information Jaehee found...” Jumin smiled slyly, “Well, I believe that trouble may soon be behind us.”

“With Elizabeth coming home, then the troubles really do feel like they might be over soon,” Meijeong said, “Have you heard from V what time he’ll be here? I think I’ll head home after we sort everything out with him.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Jumin said “I really want to be able to send you home.”

Liar, thought Meijeong, but she kept her face neutral.

“I even talked to V about it. But… I can’t exclude the possibility that the hacker that made Luciel like that knows the address to your apartment. I told V I want to send bodyguards if he just gives me the address, but he refused. I’d rather have you stay here another night than put you in danger…

“But if V says that it’s fine to go back to the apartment-“

“V sounded so suspicious when I talked to him on the phone. I couldn’t just let it go. I may be overreacting… but I think it’s better to over react when it comes to safety. This house has the best security system than any other place you know. And… aside from safety, I just think this place is too large for me to stay all by myself. I’m honestly happy to spend another day with you.

“Jumin, you’re the only one who thinks that way right now!” Meijeong snapped, “Even if this building is safe, I can’t feel safe, not with the way you’re acting.”

Jumin’s eyes grew wide with surprise, momentarily stunned. He frowned contritely and fiddled with his cufflinks again. “I am sorry for that. I know the way I’m acting doesn’t make much sense, and I will try to change my behavior so that you can feel more comfortable. But that doesn’t change the fact that I should have had a problem with your address being a secret from the first place.“

Meijeong frowned. To be fair, she couldn’t argue with that. In the back of her mind, she had been wondering for some time now why the location needed to remain secret to the members, especially when it was clear that the hacker, whoever that was, was both outside the RFA and very aware of the location.

“And the only reason why you joined the RFA is because V was so strangely accepting. The hacker, V’s approval, Luciel’s difficulty in discovering the hacker’s identity…” Jumin paced, counting off on his fingers, “I can’t explain everything right now, but I have a lot of guesses on how all those things can come together…" 

“Still, keeping me here isn’t going to answer any of those questions,” Meijeong said, “Forcing me to avoid the important things in my life isn’t going to change anything.”

“Maybe not, but still I-“

There was a knock on the door, and Meijeong exhaled hard in relief. V. Jumin looked cross at being interrupted- it was clear from how stiffly he moved on his way to answer the door that he was not looking forward to dealing with his emotions regarding Elizabeth.

“V from the RFA has come to see you,” said the security guard, “He brought your cat, sir.”

“…Let them both up,” Jumin replied uneasily.

“Yes, sir.”

Jumin paced back in forth by the door, fussing with his shirt nervously. When there was another knock on the door, he practically snapped to attention like a soldier, opening it quickly. The first sound Meijeong heard was not V’s voice, or Jumin’s but the loud, delighted cries of Elizabeth the 3rd.

“Meow! Meow~!” Elizabeth pawed at the door to the cat carrier, pacing back and forth, “Meow meow meowww!” As soon as the door closed behind him, V set the carrier down and opened the door, and Elizabeth flew out of it like a white streak, pouncing around the room joyfully.

“Hello V” said Jumin, a little more stiffly than one might expect someone to greet their best friend.

“Hey there, Jumin,” said V, much more cheerfully. V was a tall, almost gangly man with pale skin and strange but quite beautiful hair. He wore sunglasses despite the late hour, and when he took them off Meijeong saw that his eyes were almost the same color as his hair, though slightly more subdued and faded.

“V, I’m glad to see you in person!” Meijeong said, stepping forward and extending her hand, which V took gingerly. Shaking it, he smiled a bit sheepishly.

“Oh… Hello, Meijeong,” V said, “I’m sorry about my friend. I didn’t think that we’d meet until the fundraiser to be honest, but…”

“I didn’t plan on seeing you until then either,” said Jumin. He ignored Elizabeth’s purrs as she winded her way between his legs, jumping to coat every inch below the knee of his pants with her fur, and simply turned to V, “Your eyes?”

“They’re fine for now,” V replied simply.

Meijeong bent down and scratched Elizabeth under her chin. The cat lovingly stretched her neck out and let out a tiny chirp of a meow before bounding off to the couch and curling up into a ball onto the cushions. Her contented purring could be heard from across the room. Meijeong smiled.

“Elizabeth seems happy to be home,” she said meaningfully, looking at Jumin.

“Watching her curl up on that sofa over there so peacefully…” V said, “I can see that too.”

“She would stay there doing nothing for hours…” said Jumin. His arms were crossed stiffly, but there was a gentle smile on his face as he stared fondly at Elizabeth.

“Meow,” called Elizabeth, rolling over onto her back and stretching out her paws. The elegent feline appeared totally in her element and comfortably stared softly at Jumin, eyes half shut.

“What a peaceful cat,” said V, “She must like the scent in your house.”

“I suppose we think differently then,” Jumin frowned, “I told you all this on the phone earlier.”

“You did but…” V said, “Are you really not going to keep her…?” 

“I’m still thinking about it, but I can’t stop thinking that she will be happier with you,” replied Jumin flatly.

“What do you think, Meijeong?" 

“Why are you asking her?” said Jumin and Meijeong felt a twinge of anger. Thankfully, V looked almost a bit ashamed of his friend for her.

“She’s the one who’s seen you closely the past couple of days,” V insisted. He nodded to Meijeong and smiled pleasantly. “Perhaps she is more objective about you than you are yourself.”

“Jumin…” Meijeong began, following Elizabeth to the couch and scratching her delicately under her chin. “I’ve worked with cats before. I’ve never seen one happier than her until you started feeling confused and tried to cage her.”

“Exactly,” insisted Jumin, “I did that to her… I have too much to sort out in my mind for me to keep her.” Jumin clenched his fists and looked down away from them both, ashamed. V watched thoughtfully, but said nothing.

“Jumin…” Meijeong said, biting her lip, “I think you should think about how Elizabeth would feel.” She gave Elizabeth one last pat on the head, and straightened up to look at Jumin meaningfully. “Have you really considered what she was thinking? Or just what you think she feels?”

“I’ve thought about it enough… “ Jumin said, but he didn’t seem so sure, “She will be happier in your hands, V. She needs someone who can love her for what she is…" 

“That’s such a simple way to consider this,” V said. He shook his head and smiled, and Meijeong was reminded for a moment of her friend Subin. It was a look she had gotten from her own childhood friend more than once.

“Why?” Jumin said, eyebrows raised incredulously, “I don’t think I’m wrong in this matter.”

V chuckled, though not mockingly, “You’ve always been in a position where you calculate things yourself and make the decision. But this was Elizabeth’s home for years. Because of your choice, her home will change, her owner will change. Don’t think that you know what Elizabeth will feel. How much can you understand about a cat when you’ve never been in her position?”

“V is right,” Meijeong said, nodding.

“Hmm…” Something about V’s words, the way he explained things, reached Jumin in a way that Meijeong could not. “It’s true that I was taught to think like an executive. Perhaps both of you may be right. Humans can only judge things according to their own standards. I’m still learning to understand and respect others. If this is the most comfortable place for Elizabeth the 3rd…”

Jumin began to walk towards Elizabeth, his hand reaching out to pet her, but then he froze in place. His eyes grew dark and his hand fell.

“But…” he said, tugging at his sleeve cuff. His voice trailed off as he looked from Meijeong to V to the cage, still standing in the corner of the room.

“Jumin, you can be a good owner for Elizabeth,” Meijeong said, stepping to block his view of the cage and meet his eyes, “Please give yourself a second chance.”

“… I already knew that you think that way. But…” Jumin’s eyes fell and he turned away, pacing back towards his bookshelf, “It’s not that simple. It’ll be a challenge for me to accept Elizabeth the 3rd simply as a pet… but… to be honest…” Jumin’s hand ran along the spines of the old books, stopping to rest one.

“Is there something else?” asked V.

“Yes,” Jumin replied simply. His hand ran down the length of the spine of that particular book then dropped beside him.

“What is it?” V’s brow furrowed with concern.

Jumin turned to face V, his mouth pressed into a hard line. “Please listen to me and seriously consider keeping Elizabeth.”

“Alright.”

“Whenever I see Elizabeth the 3rd,” Jumin began, “I remember Rika.” 

“Of course,” V let out a soft laugh, “She was the one who gave Elizabeth to you.”

“It’s not that simple,” said Jumin crossly, “The way I thought of Rika was much more complicated than you think…” 

Rika could see how twisted I was when she was alive. I didn’t know it then, but I relied on her. So when she gave me Elizabeth the 3rd… I remember her telling me to take good care of her. As a habit, I kept seeing Rika in that cat. I imagined the warmth and deep understanding that Rika had would be in that cat too. There was never a time when I didn’t think of Rika while looking at that cat.” 

V looked concerned, but not, Meijeong noticed, terribly surprised. I think Jumin underestimates just how much his friends understand about him… she thought, watching on.

“So… when Elizabeth the 3rd ran away fro me, V…” Jumin reach out and placed his hand on V’s arm, almost apologetically, “I thought that you should be the one to have her, not me. Because you’re the one who loved Rika most… I don’t deserve her.”

V’s face grew hard. There was a long pause and Meijeong could practically feel an odd wave of emotion flowing from V. His face… there was sadness there, and heartbreak, but it wasn’t because of anything Jumin had said. His eyes, faded as they were, had a strange light behind them, one full of pain. But then V blinked, and the light was softer. He reached up and placed his hand on top of Jumin’s. The movement broke the pause, and Meijeong let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“First… please don’t involve Rika in this matter…” V said. His voice had a strange quality to it Meijeong didn’t know how to describe. “Second, Meijeong… I’m sorry that we met under such bad circumstances, and I wish we could have time to get to know each other, but right now, I think it would be best for you to go back to the apartment.”

“What? I don’t think-“

“Jumin,” V stopped his protestations with a tone and a hard look, “I think you and I need to talk. And as well meaning as your intentions were, keeping her here any longer against her will is wrong. As the head of RFA, I have to take care of all the members.”

“But-“ 

“Meijeong,” V continued, picking up her bag from the floor, “This is yours, right? Do you have all your things? There’s a car waiting downstairs that can take you back to the apartment without compromising security.” V gave a wry sort of smile.

“Thank you,” Meijeong said, unsure of what else to say. Jumin looked like he wanted to protest, but there was some quiet force about V that stopped him.

“No, thank you,” replied V cheerfully, “For taking such good care of my friend." 

“I…” Meijeong’s voice faltered and she took a deep breath. Taking a few cautious steps forward, she stood before Jumin, who looked down and away from her. “Jumin…”

He looked up at her as she took his hand. “Meijeong…”

“I can’t be with you the way you want,” she said, firmly, “The feelings you have for me… I don’t feel the same, and I never will.”

“I see,” he said, turning away again.

“No… I don’t think you do,” Meijeong laughed sadly, “You’re so all or nothing in your thinking with me, just like you are with Elizabeth. I can’t be your lover, Jumin,” she said, giving his hand a tight squeeze, “But I will always be your friend and I will always be there to help when you need me.”

Jumin didn’t reply, but there was a sort of twinge to his mouth that gave Meijeong hope that maybe, deep down, he understood. Tucking her bag under her arm, Meijeong opened the door to the penthouse. When security saw her, the guard outside opened his mouth to protest, but behind her, Jumin called out.

“Please escort my friend to the lobby so that she may leave safely.”

Smiling softly, she stepped past the guard and shut the penthouse door firmly behind her. 

“Thank you, Jumin,” she whispered under her breath as security escorted her to the elevator. She felt fragile, suddenly. Like a great weight had been lifted from her body, and she didn't know how to move without the pressure of it. "Thank you, V."

Meijeong stepped out of the building, breathing in deeply and watching as her breath fogged out in front of her in night air. The nipping cold wind stung her face and her eyes watered. There were the tiniest flurries of snow on the breeze, and it made her giddy for a moment. The first snowfall of winter. Laughing, she spun in place, arms out wide, so overwhelmed by the night sky and the fresh air and thrill of freedom that she forgot what V had said about being able to find her ride easily. But as she brushed her windswept hair back out of her face and fixed her scarf, she spotted a gaudy red sports car idling on the curb. Leaning against it, hands shoved into hoodie pockets and shivering slightly, was a familiar-yet-unfamiliar face. 

“Seven.”

Chapter Text

Seven’s face was flushing bright red, and he told himself it was the cold. Of course it was the cold. There was no way it was the girl in front of him. Her smiling face, cheeks flushed pink, hair tousled and slightly out breath from spinning in the first snowfall of the year when she didn’t realize he was watching… It was the cold. He wasn’t programmed for anything else. Then she saw him, and he saw her mouth his name. Before he could prepare himself, she sprinted across the sidewalks, crossing the distance between them before he had time to catch his breath.

“Seven!” Meijeong said, grinning giddily. Unable to contain her excitement, she dove into him, throwing her arms over his shoulders and embracing him as she laughed. “You did it!” She let go quickly, however, as Seven began to cough and sputter.

“Agh-ah-hk!” Seven leaned back against the car, bracing himself with his arm.

“Oh my god! I’m so sorry!” Meijeong said, hovering helplessly with her hands out, unsure of what to do. “I didn’t mean to tackle you like that, I was just so relieved- I- uh-“ She began stammer nervously, waving her arms in a panic.

“It’s okay- it’s not your fault!” exclaimed Seven, pulling himself upright. He felt like his face was burning, “I just- I didn’t think you would- agh…”

“Ahhh your face is all red! How long have you been out here? Shit. You’re shaking too!” Meijeong continued, chattering nervously, “Shit. I’m so sorry. It’s so cold out, you’re going to get sick, I put you through all this trouble and-“

Her frantic gestures were making him even more nervous, so he reached out and grabbed her by the shoulders, pulling her into an embrace that pinned her arms still. It seemed to have the desired affect, because Meijeong stopped her panicked apologies. He sighed.

“There, now I’m ready for you,” he said, smiling. “You just startled me, that’s all.”

“Sorry,” Meijeong replied, wrapping her arms around him and giving a gentle squeeze before pulling away. “It’s been a weird couple of days.”

“You’re telling me,” groaned Seven dramatically, “With everything else that was going on, I didn’t think I’d have jump to the rescue of a damsel in distress too.” He grinned and strolled around to the far side of the car and opened the passenger door for her.

“Hey, now! I wasn’t-“ Meijeong made a face as she slid into the seat. “I wasn’t that distressed.”

“No?” Seven teased, enjoying her grumpy reaction, “I seem recall you calling out for my aid. ‘Help me, God Seven! You’re my only hope!’” He pressed the back of his hand to his forehead in a mock-swooning motion.

Meijeong opened her mouth to protest, but he shut the door in her face, laughing as she stuck out her tongue and rolled her eyes at him through the windows. By the time he got into the driver’s seat, she was too distracted by the interior of the sports car to continue mocking him.

“How do you like my baby?” he said with a grin, watching her eyes roaming over the vintage leather. Her mouth hung open slightly in awe.

“I know nothing about cars, but isn’t something like ridiculously expensive?” Meijeong asked incredulously, running her fingers delicately over some of the knobs. Knowing Seven, they probably hid high tech modifications despite their old school appearance. “I mean, it’s neat and all, but it just seems excessive…”

Seven gasped in horror. “Why? Excessive? I don’t think you fully appreciate the value of my baby... Seatbelts!” he exclaimed, giving Meijeong barely enough time to react before shifting the gears and flooring it away from the building. The car roared beneath them, accelerating into the night.

Even though it was late, there were still plenty of cars on the road. Normally, the traffic would have slowed them down, but Seven seemed to know every back alley and short cut that existed, keeping the car moving quickly and smoothly at all times. Seven didn’t say much while he drove, preferring to show off his driving skills with the full experience of the sports car’s various loud sounds and vibrations, and Meijeong was happy to let him. There was an odd sort of peacefulness for a ride so raucous. The acceleration pushed her back into her seat, but not like a roller coaster. Seven was too good a driver for that. Instead, it was a sort of pleasant heaviness, weighing her backwards. That is, until Seven realized how comfortable she was with the speed and decided to mess with her by driving tighter corners and pulling more extreme starts and stops.

“You have more cars, right? How many?” Meijeong asked at one point.

“Mmm… four currently, counting this one,” Seven said, smiling but not taking his eyes off the road. He executed a perfect hairpin turn that caused Meijeong to slide sideways and crash into his shoulder.

“Are they all this much fun?” she laughed, straightening herself up and tucking her hair behind her ear.

“Well...” said Seven, pausing to think, “A good car dad shouldn’t play favorites with his babies but…” He patted the dashboard fondly.

Meijeong laughed again and Seven’s face felt hot. “Well, show me the rest sometime anyway.”

"Wait until you ride with the roof down," Seven said, tapping the convertible roof with a grin. "It feels like flying!"

They drove in silence after that, except for the quiet radio, which played a strange mix of electronic, classic rock, and 90s music that was barely audible over the rumbling of the car’s engine. But as the landmarks began to grow more familiar, Meijeong felt a strange sort of pain growing in her chest. Her throat felt tight, and she realized she was clenching her fists tightly on her bag.

How many days was it? Meijeong thought, trying to count in her head. How many hours was I trapped in there by myself?

“Hey… uh…” Meijeong began, biting her lip. “Seven…” She folded her hands together tightly and looked down at her lap.

“Yeah?” Seven looked over and saw her doubled over, “Do you feel sick? Do you need me to slow down…?” Worried, he began to break, glancing back and forth from her to the road. “We’re almost there.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m fine… I just…” Meijeong took a deep breath as the car slowed to a stop in front of the apartment high rise. “After being trapped in there for so long… driving so fast just felt like flying.” She laughed, feeling awkward. “I’m just sad that the ride is already ov-“

Before she could finish her sentence, Seven shifted gears and accelerated away from the apartment.

“I just thought of something,” he said, “City driving is great and all, but to really appreciate my baby, you need to see what she can do in some wide roads and hills.” He grinned mischievously.

Meijeong leaned back in the seat and smiled softly. “Well, it would definitely be a let down if I get the full experience.” She felt her hands relax and took a deep breath. “Thanks, Seven.”

As a response, Seven sped up, causing the engine to growl. The lights of the buildings flew past in the night, slowly becoming less frequent until the only light was the passing flash of other cars and the occasional streetlight. Suddenly, Seven turned off the main road to a hill, winding the car up and around through trees. She hadn’t known there was a place like this so close to the apartment, a place so quiet. The road in front of them was completely dark except for the headlights, and there wasn’t a single building. Tucking a piece of hair behind her ear, Meijeong lean her head against the window and sighed softly. The radio played a song she knew, and she began to hum along absentmindedly.

She looked so peaceful that Seven might have thought she was asleep, but the occasional flash of light through the window of the car lit up her eyes, sparkling in the night. And of course, the singing, which was so quiet that he wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t seen her mouth moving. Her soft exhales left just the tiniest fog on the glass, which faded and reformed with each breath. The car purred and took each turn with perfect precision, winding up to a spot that Seven knew of. He was torn between wanting to speed up and see her reaction sooner, and wanting to slow down and… Well, he settled for keeping the speed level. A few more turns and… Meijeong sat up and gasped. The sound nearly took his breath away. He slowed down and pulled the car over, delighted.

The tiny flakes of snow had stopped falling and below them, the lights of the city sprawled out like an endless sea of light. Meijeong stared wide-eyed at them all, struggling to find the right words.

“I forgot…” she said. Her voice grew soft, and she smiled, “It drives me crazy that you can’t see the stars from in the city because of all the light. But seeing it from here… it’s like it made its own little galaxy on Earth instead.”

She turned to Seven and laughed, “You didn’t tell me your car was a spaceship!”

To Meijeong’s surprise, he didn’t laugh. In fact, he was looking down at the steering wheel with a strange sort of intensity.

“Seven…?”

“Ah, sorry!” He bounced up, grinning cheerfully. “I just got distracted. We should go back though, before it gets much later.”

“Mmm…” Meijeong nodded, looking longingly out the window one last time, “You’re right.” She leaned her head back against the window again as Seven drove, flying down the hills and turns at speeds so fast it felt like they were in a race. It should have been terrifying, but Meijeong wasn’t scared. She felt warm and safe for the first time in days.

By the time they reached the apartment again, there was no sign that it had snowed at all, save for a few stray wet patches on the road. In the pit of her stomach, Meijeong still felt a slight pinch of anxiety, but it seemed distant and far away now, like the lights of the city up on the mountain. The cold air felt sharp as she got out of the car and waved goodbye to Seven. He stayed in the car and watched until she got into the building, then sped off like lightning.

Lightning… that was the feeling. Meijeong hadn’t been able to place it.

“Like watching a thunderstorm,” she said to herself quietly as she waited for the elevator. She smiled and checked her phone, opening the RFA app. No one was there, so Meijeong just left a quick message.

 

MC: I’m home!

 

 

“You disappoint me. How could a cat have vanished from Magenta without a trace?”

“There are so many Believers here now, Savior. You have saved so many people.” 

“And I will continue to save more. If you can’t keep them all safe, then you aren’t of any use to Mint Eye.”

“I’m sorry, Savior, I’m trying my best, but my head… it’s been hurting more than usual since I started this mission.”

“I’m tired of hearing your excuses. Can Paradise be built on excuses?”

“No, savior… I’ll do better. I apologize.”

“I forgive you. For now, we know the cat has been returned to its owner. This could only be possible if there is a traitor among us. Find them.”

“Yes, savior.” 

“The time is fast approaching when we will welcome the RFA to join us in paradise, but that paradise will be incomplete and flawed while such a person taints our ranks. Your only mission is to find whoever it is. The RFA will have to wait until that goal is accomplished.” 

“Yes, savior.”

“No more failures. Another failure in security like this and it may mean that you should be replaced… Go get more of your medicine. You’re a good boy. Please continue to be a good boy. I need you.”

“I won’t let you down again, Savior.” 

“Thank you for all your hard work. Now go and get your medicine.”

Chapter Text

Time moved much faster when Meijeong wasn’t feeling trapped and confined. This was both a good thing and bad thing. In theory, things should have slowed down- and in some ways, they had. The hacker seemed to have given up or disappeared. Seven reported zero attempts to target the messenger servers since the day Meijeong had left Jumin’s house. The timing seemed like a weird coincidence, but regardless, both Seven and V had decided last week that bodyguards were no longer necessary, and the lives of the RFA members seemed to be returning back to something resembling normal.

Meijeong had returned to work at the bookshop extremely apologetic. Even though both Mr. Park and Sun-mi had been very understanding about her ‘family emergency’, Meijeong felt so guilty that she picked up extra shifts and overtime as often as she could. Her self-imposed crazy work schedule meant that time flew by fast. There was only a week and half left until Christmas, and therefore only a week and half left until the RFA’s first major event since Meijeong joined. Since it was Meijeong’s first day off in a while, she was glad to be able to meet up with Jaehee (and Yoosung) and discuss the plans for the fundraiser. It was Meijeong’s only day off until Christmas Eve when the preparations for the event would begin. Thankfully, Jaehee was enjoying a bit more free time than usual.

“Glam Choi and sister Sarah’s Embarrassments Continue to Grow: The Ultimate Gold-Digging Scheme Ends in Further Economic Woes,” Meijeong read aloud, “You know, I don’t normally like tabloid sensationalism, but that headline does kind of sum it up perfectly.”

“Agreed,” replied Jaehee with a sly smile. She took another sip of her coffee before continuing. “I suppose we should just be grateful that the Chairman finally listened to reason.”

“Because of you!” Yoosung said. “Jumin should have given you a raise for all the hard work you did.”

Jaehee’s research had turned up an interesting fact about Glam Choi and Sarah- that is to say, that they were sisters. The two hid the connection in order to hide the full extent of their credit debts and their joint involvement in the business they hoped to trick C&R into buying. Not only that, but Glam had apparently used money gifts from Chairman Han when they first started dating a few months ago to fund some of Sarah’s plastic surgery procedures to ensure that the sisters relationship would not be discovered. To Jumin and the entire RFA’s relief, these revelations were finally enough to convince the Chairman that Glam Choi love for him was a lie, thereby finally settling the entire engagement fiasco. The tabloids were eating the entire scandal up. Even two weeks later, the headlines still continued.

“A bonus and a few extra vacation days are a sufficient enough reward,” said Jaehee, leaning back into the heavily cushioned leather couch chair with a contented sigh. Jaehee and Yoosung had already explained most of what Meijeong was still confused about as far as the Christmas Party goes, and it turned out that there really wasn’t much more she had to do except help with setup the day of and be ready to greet the various donors. For a moment, there was nothing they needed to do, and it was nice to just relax. The air in the coffee shop smelled heavenly, with the usually robust coffee smell tinted with hints of cinnamon and peppermint due to all the Christmas specials. Meijeong took a long sip of her chai latte and watched as people rushed by outside, carrying armfuls of shopping bags and bundled in scarves and coats. Many of them were couples, linked arm and arm, which had led to no small amount of disappointed remarks from Yoosung.

“I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas…” Yoosung sighed, “I really hoped that this year I’d have a girlfriend to spend it with.”

“You should have played that game less then,” Jaehee said, “How late were you up last night?”

Yoosung did have bad dark circles under his eyes. He groaned and flopped onto the table, muttering a muffled reply that was unintelligible through his hoodie.

“We’re going to be working the party all day anyway, remember?” said Meijeong. “All you’d do is disappointed your girlfriend because you couldn’t spend the day doing cute things with her.”

“Meijeong is right,” Jaehee said, taking another sip of her coffee and staring disdainfully at Yoosung over the rim of her glasses.

“Isn’t that what everyone dreams about for Christmas though?” said Yoosung, propping his chin on his crossed arms so he could look up, “Once you’re old enough that Santa and presents aren't exciting anymore, you dream about spending a romantic day with the one you love?”

“That’s just the commercialized dream you’ve been fed by corporations that earn a lot of money from romantics like you,” said Jaehee. She adjusted her glasses and sat up stoically. “It has nothing to do with what Christmas is actually about.”

“That’s such a sad way of looking at it, Jaehee,” Yoosung frowned and sat up, “You’re so jaded.”

“I prefer to think I’m realistic,” she retorted. “It may be sad, but capitalism controls the world around us in some many unexpected ways.”

Yoosung shrugged, frowning.

“I dunno,” Meijeong said, staring out the window wistfully. “Personally, I think you’re both right. It’s an overly commercialized cash grab, but the warm feelings that Christmas creates aren’t any less real because of that.” She wiggled a little, getting comfortable in her favorite oversized sweater dress.

“Some people find it hard to feel those warm, fuzzy feelings because of the commercialism though,” said Jaehee. “Like those of us who have to work through the holidays because we can’t turn down the extra pay.”

“Jumin asked you to work overtime even after everything you just did to help him?” Meijeong said, shocked.

“No, not yet,” Jaehee sighed, “But knowing Mr. Han, it will probably happen.”

“Mmmm… I guess I can understand that feeling,” nodded Yoosung. “Ever since I moved away from home for college, it’s been a little harder to get into the spirit of things.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong sighed and tucked her hair behind her ear, “I go back and forth about it.”

All three of them had to leave soon after that. Meijeong desperately needed groceries, Jaehee had laundry to pick up and needed to stop at the bank, and Yoosung… had a LOLOL raid planned with some of his gaming friends. The amount of time he was spending on the game seemed to be skyrocketing lately, and Meijeong worried that perhaps the upcoming holiday had something to do with it.

Maybe he’s trying to smother his loneliness… Meijeong thought as she picked up the grocery basket and started wandering through the aisles. Or maybe getting ready for the fundraiser has him feeling depressed thinking about Rika not being here…

Meijeong was particularly worried about the latter, with all the RFA members, not only Yoosung. Having her take on Rika’s position was one thing when it was just chat rooms and emails, but being a big event instead of Rika was another thing entirely. Especially to Yoosung, Jumin, and V, or at least it seemed so to her. For better or worse, the wounds her death left in Zen, Jaehee, and Seven seemed to have healed faster. There wasn’t much she could do about V, since his communications with the group were few and far between, nor for Jumin since… But with Yoosung, there had to be something.

“If I wasn’t working so much, we could go volunteer…” Meijeong said to herself as she picked through the soup stocks and broths. Sighing, she grabbed the on-sale chicken stock she had been looking for and decided to focus on that problem later. The store was full of advertised sales that she needed to take advantage while she had the time.

“Oh!” Meijeong gasped out loud as she passed the baking aisle, “Idea!” She got a weird look from the elderly woman pushing a cart nearby for talking to herself out loud, but it didn’t bother her.

“Christmas cookies. Everyone feels better when there are cookies.” She filled her basket with the necessary supplies, including plenty of cute cookie cutters, sprinkles, and frosting tools. She hadn’t made Christmas cookies in a couple of years (since she hadn’t been home for the holiday) but it was simple recipe, and she found herself really excited to revive the tradition.

By the time she left, the sky was getting dark and the winter air was becoming bitter cold. Meijeong wrapped her scarf tight, snuggling down into it, and shuffled along quickly in the biting wind. The cheerful couples had all retreated indoors for the night, and all that was left on the streets were people like her who had a sense of urgency about them. All of them were hurrying to get from point A to point B and paying no mind to the Christmas decorations that hung in most of the shop windows.

Waving to the camera outside the apartment door reminded Meijeong that she needed to get a hold of Seven’s address so she could send him cookies as well. Truthfully, she would prefer to meet up in person with him again to share them together but…

She felt funny when she talked to Seven sometimes these days, ever since the night he had come to rescue her from Jumin’s. It wasn’t a bad funny feeling, but it bothered her that she couldn’t figure it out. Sure, she was a little frustrated and embarrassed that she had needed to be “rescued” at all, but it wasn’t like that was because of Seven. Most of the time, their conversations were fun and light and goofy, but occasionally, in a quiet moment, her stomach sort of pinched.

Meijeong sighed as she finished unpacking her groceries, setting the cookie supplies aside for the time being. The apartment felt a little bare as well, since she hadn’t had time to get any Christmas decorations set up, and that definitely bummed her out. Groaning, Meijeong flopped backwards onto the couch and pulled out her phone. She had text message from Subin confirming the full dates that she would be back home for New Years, and another from Jaehee about the fundraiser. Before she could reply-

RING! RING RING!  

The phone buzzed and lit up- Seven was calling. With a smile, she answered.

“Seven! I was just thinking of you,” Meijeong said cheerfully, sitting up on the couch and tucking her legs crossed beneath her.

“Me? Me?” said Seven, “You were thinking of me?”

“Well, yeah,” Meijeong laughed. “Didn’t you see me wave at the camera when I got home?”

“Yes, but that was 6.27 minutes ago,” Seven replied, “You’re still thinking about me after 6.27 minutes?”

“Uhh… yeah,” Meijeong said, frowning, “I decided I wanted to make Christmas cookies for everyone, and you’re the only one that I don’t know how to reach. Physically, I mean,” Meijeong stammered, flustered and feeling warm for some reason,” Wait- oh, wait, not physically physically, I meant like…” Seven was laughing at her on the other end of the line.

“You’re so cute when you’re flustered,” Seven teased.

“I just want to find a way to send you Christmas cookies along with everyone else!” Meijeong said indignantly. She could feel her face flush red as Seven kept laughing, “Fine! No cookies for you! Everyone else gets cookies, but not Seven because he’s being a jerk!”

There was a loud, dramatic gasp on the other end of the line. Meijeong grinned, having gotten the reaction she wanted, and tucked her hair back.

“How could you… be so cruel…” Seven whimpered pitifully. “Just like Miss Vanderwood. So cold-hearted…”

“The freezing winter wind has nothing on me,” Meijeong laughed.

“Harsh… bitter…” Seven continued to whine sadly, but there was a slightly mischievous tone to his voice now, “So heartless… It’s… kind of turning me on…?” He chuckled at his joke.

“Haha,” Meijeong replied sarcastically, but there was that strange feeling again, “But seriously, I make really good cookies, and I want to make sure everyone gets some.”

“Even Jumin?”

The question stopped Meijeong’s thoughts in their tracks and she felt her breath catch in her throat.

“Sorry,” said Seven when she didn’t respond, “I didn’t mean-“

“No, it’s fine,” Meijeong said, taking a deep breath. “Of course for Jumin too. The whole RFA. But I can’t give you yours until you tell me how.” She switched the subject back, forcing her voice to sound lighthearted.

“Uhhmmm… well…” Seven began, “I’m really busy right now with work… and I don’t normally do anything for Christmas… uhhh... maybe… no… You could…”

“Okay, well, figure it out,” Meijeong laughed, “You could even come over and help me make them, if you want. Since you’re the only one who could.”

“Eeehhhhhhehehe,” Seven made a strange sound, “I mean…”

Beep.

“Ah, it’s my boss,” Meijeong said, looking at the call waiting flashing on her phone, “I have to take this. Figure something out and let me know, okay?”

“Alrighty-oh!” said Seven, “Goodbye!”

“Bye!” Meijeong said, and then switched the call, “Mr. Park? Hello…" 

 

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: Good morning guys

Jumin Han: Good morning

Yoosung*: Meijeong!!

Yoosung*: Have you heard!?

MC: Heard what?

MC: I was just checking in before I left for work

MC: Is something wrong?

Yoosung*: Jumin says the event won’t be hosted under the RFA name anymore!!

Yoosung*: Instead they’re changing the name to C&R

Jumin Han: Yes, that’s true

MC: What? Why!?

Jumin Han: I can’t say

Jumin Han: It wasn’t my decision

MC: Then…

Yoosung*: That can only mean that

V has entered the chatroom.

MC: Hey V

Yoosung*:

Jumin Han: V…

Jumin Han: I suppose you’re here to explain things?

V: Yes, as much as I’m able

V: I requested that the name be changed

Yoosung*: OnO !?

MC: Why!?

V: I’m sorry. I can’t give you the reason why.

V: So don’t blame Jumin for this…

Jumin Han: There’s no need for you to defend me

Jumin Han: I agreed to your decision

Yoosung*:

V: Still… I appreciate it

V: And I’m sorry that I can’t explain things more

MC: Okay…

MC: How should I explain this to the guests I’ve contacted?

Jumin Han: I’ve told Assistant Kang to begin working on a statement

Jumin Han: She’ll contact you and help explain

V: Thank you Jumin, for all your hard work

V: And thank you to Jaehee and Meijeong and all the other members as well

Jumin Han: I’m only doing my part as a member of the RFA

MC: Of course

MC: We’ll make sure the fundraiser goes smoothly no matter what

Yoosung*: Will the RFA name be mentioned at all?

Yoosung*: Will Rika’s name be mentioned at all?

Jumin Han: Not in any official records

Yoosung*:

Jumin Han: I have a meeting to attend

MC: Alright

V: Jumin, is alright if I call you later?

Jumin Han: Of course

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

Yoosung*: I don’t understand you at all, V

Yoosung*: You better at least be at the party

V: Iwill be there as much asI can

V: but I mightnot be able to getttthere until the end

V: Oh

V: dd

V: The chatroom keepslagging…

V: I’m lllosing connection.I have to go.

MC: I hope we get to talk again soon V…

Yoosung*:

V: Yes, goodbye Meijeong

V: Yoosung…

V: I’llget goingg

V has left the chatroom.

Yoosung*: Doing this together while remembering Rika

Yoosung*: I wanted to do it like the old days but…

MC: Yoosung…

MC: Only the host is changing, right?

Yoosung*: Yes, it’s still mainly an RFA event

Yoosung*: V…

Yoosung*: If he could just tell us

Yoosung*: the reasons, that’d be nice.

Yoosung*: But all he does is keep creating more and more secrets

Yoosung*: And deciding things on his own

Yoosung*: Why does C&R have to be official host of this event?

MC: I want to believe that something important came up

MC: Something unavoidable…

MC: I mean…

MC: Jumin agreed to it, so there must be something to this

Yoosung*: But Jumin just trusts V blindly

Yoosung*: He probably didn’t even question it

MC: I know… but…

MC: Let’s just focus on doing good

MC: And carrying on Rika’s legacy

MC: Isn’t the intention more important the name of the event?

Yoosung*: … maybe you’re right

MC: If you keep Rika in your heart and do your best, then the heart of the event will be more important to the people there

Yoosung*: The heart is more important than the name…

Yoosung*: You’re right

Yoosung*: Thank you Meijeong

Yoosung*: I feel like that’s exactly what Rika would have said

MC: ^^

MC: You’re welcome

MC: I have to go to work

Yoosung*: Yeah, I should get going too

Yoosung*: bye ^^

MC: Bye!

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

“Aslan! Scoot!” Meijeong nudged the cat gently with her foot as she carried the heavy stack of books. The ginger cat meowed grouchily and stepped through her legs once more before slinking off to hide up high in the shelves. It had been a very, very long day of work, and Meijeong did not want it to end with her tripping over the cat and breaking her neck. With a groan, she dropped the books on the end of the counter and slid past the line of customers at the register.

“Sorry for the wait,” Meijeong said, straightening her apron and flipping her hair back. “I have your order right here, sir.” Smiling her best customer service grin, she handed the customer two books from pile. She rang him up quickly and moved on to the next customer. Across the store, Sun-mi ran back and forth between customers, directing them to the correct aisles.

“Mei! Ji-woo Park is here,” Sun-mi called out through the noise of the store, “Do you have the copy of-“

“Yes, right here!” Meijeong called over in response as she handed the next customer their receipt, “Thank you so much for shopping at Park’s Books. Please come again.”

“Meijeong, Mrs. Lee is on the phone,” Mr. Park said, stepping out from the staff room and holding the shops old, corded phone, “I’ll take over here.”

Meijeong nodded and stepped back out of the way so that Mr. Park could step up to the register. As soon as she stepped through the door to the staff room, she leaned against the wall and sighed. There were a few hours left until closing, and the store was packed with people shopping for Christmas gifts. Apparently, there was some new trend among young couples involving old and vintage books that was popular this year, and so business was booming. Taking another long, deep breath, Meijeong picked up the phone.

“Mrs. Lee, how are you today?” she said cheerfully. “Yes, I don’t blame you for not wanting to come in to the store in this weather. How about I set up a delivery for you…”

By closing time, the store looked like a tornado had crashed through it. Meijeong and Sun-mi began picking through the store, performing the sad, Sisyphean task of reorganizing books that would be a mess again as soon as the store opened the next day. Aslan watched from above, his tail twitching angrily. He liked the crowded store even less than they did.

“You know what would make today bearable?” frowned Sun-mi as she bent down to pick up a book that had somehow ended up under a shelf.

“What’s that?” Meijeong said. She pulled out a stack of romance novels that had somehow ended up in the cooking section.

“If- and of course, I don’t want to be pushy-“ Sun-mi said, trading the historical fiction for Meijeong’s stack of romance novels and shoving them into the shelf behind her. “If you maybe knew of a time when you could introduce me to Zen?” Sun-mi smiled, her eyes wide and pleading. “I know you’ve been super busy so I didn’t want to bother you, but-“

“I haven’t forgotten,” Meijeong said, rolling her eyes and smiling, “I actually had an idea about that.”

“Oh! Really?” Sun-mi bounced over, suddenly much more energetic, “Please tell me!”

“You wouldn’t be able to hang out with him or anything, because we’ll be working,” Meijeong said, “But that fundraising group I’m part of is holding an event on Christmas. You could stop by and…” Meijeong frowned as Sun-mi looked dramatically disappointed.

“Ugghhh,” Sun-mi groaned, “I know I should expect this from someone as perpetually single as you, but still…”

“What? You have a hot date or something?” Meijeong teased, knowing the answer already.

“Of course I do!” Sun-mi said, “He’s actually a really nice guy. I might actually be serious about him.”

“Wowww…” Meijeong laughed, “He must be really good looking.”

“Smoking hot,” replied Sun-mi seriously. She sighed and shrugged, “So I can’t bring him to go meet Zen.”

“Of course not,” Meijeong said. She climbed up the step-stool and took the books Sun-mi handed her, organizing them on the top shelf by author.

“I mean, obviously, it’s not like Zen would be into me, so it shouldn’t really matter but…” Sun-mi pursed her lips and glanced up at Meijeong quickly. “I mean, there’s not way he’d be into me, right?”

“If I’m being honest, I have no idea,” Meijeong said, “I don’t really know what his type is. He’s more into himself than any girl as far as I’ve seen.”

“Yeah, but you’re oblivious,” Sun-mi laughed, walking away carrying a stack of books that belonged in the kids section, “You probably wouldn’t notice a guy liked you until he kissed you.”

“Hey now, it’s not like I have zero experience…” Meijeong’s voice trailed off. Suddenly, she was back in Jumin’s penthouse, staring blankly at him as he pulled away from that kiss… Meijeong always assumed she had been good at reading people, but she had missed Jumin’s intentions completely. If I had just realized sooner, maybe things could have gone differently…

“Mei!” Sun-mi said, poking her head around the corner and breaking the spell. “It’s really okay if we can’t go meet Zen. Just buy me tickets to his next show, front row, mmkay?”

“Well, I was going to do that anyway,” Meijeong teased, rolling her eyes. “So don’t get greedy.” She picked up the next pile of books and went back to setting up the display, laughing as Sun-mi fake pouted.

 

 

As exhausted as she was, Meijeong didn’t particularly feel like checking the messenger when she got home. But there were emails to send to explain the situation to the guests, and since Jaehee was online, it seemed best to start that part of her job. The two of them talked work (and complained about work, as well) for a while. Meijeong was about to sign off to go take a bath when Zen popped in. 

ZEN has entered the chatroom.

MC: Oh hey Zen!

MC: I was just about to leave :(

ZEN: Hey there babe

ZEN: Don’t go just yet!

Jaehee Kang: Hello Zen

ZEN: I have good news!

ZEN: Hi Jaehee

MC: Okay, well, hurry up and spill ^^

ZEN: ~* ^_^ *~

Jaehee Kang: Is it a new role?

ZEN: Yeah! How’d you know?

Jaehee Kang: There were rumors in the musical theater community that a new show based on a romance novel was going to be put on

Jaehee Kang: Naturally, I assumed you’d be perfect for the lead

ZEN: Haha, well, I’m not quite the lead ;;

ZEN: But it’s still a good role

MC: That’s awesome Zen!

MC: I can’t wait to see it.

Jaehee Kang: Yes, please let us know when the show dates are announced

ZEN: There is one bit of bad news though…

ZEN: I feel kind of bad about this but

ZEN: There’s a really strict producer involved

ZEN: And they’re insisting that the first read-through and rehearsal be on Christmas Day

ZEN: Since that’s the only day they have free

MC: Oh no! T_T

Jaehee Kang: That means you won’t be able to attend the fundraiser, right?

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: T_T

MC: That’s such a bummer

Jaehee Kang: Unfortunately, it’s part of the price of being an actor

ZEN: Jaehee’s right but…

ZEN: I always end up working on Christmas

ZEN: Instead of spending the way I want…

ZEN: Of course, it’s not like I have a girlfriend to spend the day romantically with anyway

MC: Ah, you sound like Yoosung now

ZEN: Haha, maybe ^^;;

Jaehee Kang: We’ll certainly miss you at the event

Jaehee Kang: But if it helps further your career, then I whole-heartedly support it

ZEN: Thanks…

MC: ^_^ Don’t worry

MC: There will be plenty more events

MC: Just focus on doing your best

ZEN: Thanks Meijeong!

ZEN: I feel a little more motivated when you say that

ZEN: It’s nice having such good fans

MC: I was just talking to my coworker about you today, actually

MC: Since I didn’t get to go with her to your last one

ZEN: Talking about me? <3

ZEN: That’s nice to know

MC: I promised I’d introduce you to her afterwards

MC: She’s really become quite the fan

Jaehee Kang: This is the high school girl you work with?

MC: Yeah, Sun-mi

MC: She’s a nice girl

MC: a little silly and boy crazy at times but sweet

Jaehee Kang: I see…

ZEN: Well, it’s always nice to meet fans

ZEN: I’m sure if she’s a friend of yours, she must be cute too

ZEN: <3 ^_^ <3

MC: lololol

MC: Thanks

ZEN: Anyway, I just wanted to tell you right away

ZEN: I actually have to go work out now

MC: Okay, well, have fun

Jaehee Kang: Yes, and be safe

ZEN: Of course ^_*

ZEN: See you

ZEN has left the chatroom.

MC: Well, that’s exciting

MC: I need to go clean up

Jaehee Kang: Before you go, Meijeong…

MC: ?

Jaehee Kang: I know I have mentioned this before

Jaehee Kang: But I can’t help but worry knowing what you said about your coworker

Jaehee Kang: You’re not leading her to believe that she can have…

Jaehee Kang: special access

Jaehee Kang: to Zen, right?

MC: Jaehee.

MC: No.

MC: I’m not.

Jaehee Kang: Forgive me for saying this

Jaehee Kang: but young girls, particularly ‘boy crazy’ ones as you say

Jaehee Kang: do not always respect boundaries

MC: And you think I would let someone like that take advantage of Zen?

MC: You think someone I know and trust would do something like that?

Jaehee Kang: I do not know

Jaehee Kang: I only wish to stress caution

Jaehee Kang: Zen is at a critical point in his career

Jaehee Kang: and a scandal could ruin him

MC: Right

MC: You’ve said that

MC: I’m going to go now

Jaehee Kang; I don’t mean to be offensive

Jaehee Kang: I just worry

MC: I worry too

MC: So please trust my judgment and Zen’s more.

MC: goodnight Jaehee.

MC has left the chatroom.

Chapter Text

It was Christmas Eve, and time to begin setting up for the fundraiser. Meijeong, extremely nervous, had spend the night before baking as soon as she left work. Now, armed with several packages of Christmas cookies, she set out to deliver them before meeting to help being set up for the event later in the afternoon. She had dropped some off to C&R for Jumin and Jaehee, though they were too busy to see her in person. Meijeong would have liked to see Jaehee, but Jumin… she wasn’t sure how she felt about seeing him face to face yet.

Everyone else she was very much looking forward to seeing, though, even if it wouldn’t quite be on Christmas for all of them. She and Zen had already decided to go out for drinks on Boxing Day. Yoosung and Seven were all that were left, and while she was going to see Yoosung at the event and the next day with Zen, she kind of felt like he needed a pick-up. She convinced Yoosung to meet her for lunch before they went to the event location, hoping to cheer him up and give him a chance to talk about things and let out some frustrations (preferably, before he saw V tomorrow). His mood had been rather bleak over the past few days, due in large part with the name change for the event. His anger exploded out at least once a day in the chatroom, and while Meijeong understood where he was coming from, she couldn’t help but think that maybe there was something more beneath the surface that was making him more emotional.

As for Seven, well… he reacted differently than she expected to the entire notion Christmas. She would have expected him to be even more excited than usually, dressing up and playing pranks and decorating and going on about gifts and fun. But instead, he was bogged down in work, and for once, seemed to be focusing on it rather than coming up with distractions. He also seemed… more pessimistic than usual. His goofiness was always peppered with a few dark comments, but now they seemed more pervasive.

Of course, that didn’t mean he wasn’t joking around at all, as their current phone conversation was demonstrating. Meijeong was laughing much more loudly than was strictly polite on public transportation while on her way to see Yoosung.

“Wait, so you don’t like Santa Claus?” Meijeong laughed. “Why not? I sort of thought you’d both get along.”

“Oho! You want to know why~?” Seven took on a lecturing tone, like a teacher at an elementary school, “First, how much do you really know about Santa?

“Well, he’s a jolly old man who rides a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, going down chimneys to deliver gifts to all the good children of the world,” Meijeong replied, equally studiously, “Or at least, that’s how all the songs go and stories go.”

“Bingo~!” chirped Seven cheerfully before becoming ‘serious’ again “But we can’t be all haha hohoho about this. We must realize what’s really important here. We must take this time to seriously inquire about this figure Santa Claus! This man, who gives presents to children who are nice, let’s find out who this man really is. Our first inquiry?”

“Hmmm… how does he know which children are nice or naughty?”

“Oh! That’s really important. Sometimes, that standard of being nice might seem cruel to children… only adults get to decide who’s naughty or nice.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Meijeong frowned, thinking of situations some of her friends had been in when they were children…

“Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair? I know everyone thinks of him only as a kind old man… In reality, however, that person is really-“

“A ghoossstttt!!!” Meijeong moaned spookily.

Seven bursts out laughing, making her smile.

“But actually… he’s really just a hopeful lie.”

“Oh… a hopeful…? Lie?” Seven paused, musing over her words.

“Mhmm… I know he’s not real, but…” Meijeong smiled, looking out the window wistfully, “I still believe in the idea of Santa. The hope of a better, more magical world, where children can feel safe and have wishes come true, even if it’s just one night a year. I know that might sound silly but-”

"That’s…” Seven’s voice had become softer, sadder somehow, “That’s not silly at all. And it’s not entirely wrong!” He became cheerful and mischievous again like flipping a switch.

“But I… “ Seven pause dramatically, “I think he’s a spy!! He travels all around the world to hack into information networks, infiltrate target locations, and steal information! He totally created this saintly image for himself so that no one suspects him… And that’s how this figure was born.” He whispered loudly and dramatically, and Meijeong laughed.

Sensing an opportunity, Meijeong gasped in faux surprise, “Wait… does that mean… Seven… you’re Santa!?”

“I-I can’t be Santa-“ Seven chuckled before retuning to his teacher voice from before, “It’s too hard for me to tell who’s naughty or nice! But I want to believe in a Santa that is the legendary hacker. A malicious hacker who only appears on December 25!“

“Okay, but… Santa Claus has been around for centuries…” Meijeong mused, biting her lip, “Does that mean he’s like… the Dread Pirate Roberts or Agent 007? Like the title gets passed from hacker to hacker, Santa to Santa? Or is this also an immortal hacker we’re dealing with here?”

“Hmmmm... I think you’ve stumbled upon another mystery. Alright Agent 606, want to investigate together?”

“Haha, of course. We have to solve this riddle!”

“But that means you must be careful. It might be a ruse that he gives presents to nice children.“

“I’ll be careful. I don’t even have a fireplace.”

“Excellent work! Besides, if you need a present, I can get you one! The only person you can trust is me, God Seven who controls the seven kingdoms!”

“God Seven 707 Luciel Choi, First of his Name, Rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, Defender of Justice, Breaker of Firewalls… uhhh… “ Meiejong’s voice trailed off as she tried to think of more titles, but Seven was making that quiet sort of mumbling hmmmm sound that clearly meant he had just gotten an idea.

“Oh no,” said Meijeong, smiling, “What are you scheming now?”

“Nothing! I swear,” Seven replied, sounding mischievous and completely unconvincing.

“So then, what do you want for Christmas?” Meijeong said, straightening up in her bus seat and looking up to check which stop was coming up next, “I have cookies that I need to give you, but you said you’re not coming to the fundraiser… We could meet up afterwards… or another time!”

“Ah… I don’t normally do anything on Christmas,” said Seven, sounding uncomfortable suddenly, “I prefer to just hibernate until it’s over.”

“Even if there are cookies…?” Meijeong teased lightly, but the way he was talking actually had her quite worried. She bit her lip, frowning.

“Well… I do like cookies but… AGK!” Seven shouted suddenly, then his voice dropped to almost a whisper, “Mrs. Vanderwood is here. I told her she could have the week off for Christmas-“

“Generous,” Meijeong nodded.

“-But she’s here today anyway. She must want me to give her- give her the- the… vacuum. I had her vacuum.” Seven said, “I have to go, but I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Okey-dokey”

Seven laughed, “Bye then!”

Seven’s timing was actually quite good, because the next stop was Meijeong’s. There was a small café not far from the fundraiser’s location that Yoosung remembered, and the two of them were going to grab a quick lunch.

The café smelled like cinnamon and was packed with people. Meijeong saw Yoosung already sitting down, tucked away into a corner away from all the merry couples sitting in the front by the decorations. He had his phone out, and was glaring at it with such intensity that Meijeong thought perhaps V was in the chatroom again.

“Hey, Yoosung…” Meijeong began cautiously, pulling out the chair and sliding in across from him.

“Did you check that chatroom?” Yoosung asked. He was slouched down in the seat, staring at the phone screen.

“Not recently, I was on the phone with Seven,” Meijeong replied. “Did something happen?”

“Not really,” said Yoosung, dropping his phone to the table and shoving it aside like the phone itself had offended him. “Everyone is just going along with V’s decision without question…. If he would just explain himself, then maybe…”

“I mean…” Meijeong sighed and unwrapped the scarf from around her neck, setting it to the side with her purse and opening the menu. “I won’t deny I’m curious about his reasons too, but obsessing over trying to figure them out isn’t going to make the fundraiser go any better.” She flipped through the menu pages, but she wasn’t reading it, really. She was trying to read Yoosung, and figure out what he needed to hear.

“You’re not wrong, but…” Yoosung sighed and fiddled with the strings on his hoodie. “V was such a good friend before… back then. I really though that he made Rika happy… But that can’t have been true, otherwise… maybe Rika wouldn’t have…”

Yoosung’s face was scrunched up and his eyes were glassy with the hint of tears. He didn’t look up when the waitress set glasses of water on the table and asked to take their order. Meijeong politely gestured for her to give them both a moment.

“Oh, Yoosung, no,” Meijeong reached out and put her hand on top of Yoosung’s angrily clenched fists, “Depression… suicide… it’s not something that a lover or a friend can fix for you, no matter how happy they make you.”

Yoosung’s shoulders shook, but he looked up and met her eyes. “But… Rika wasn’t… I mean, she seemed so bright and cheerful. I can’t imagine her being depressed.”

“Maybe she didn’t want you to know. Yoosung…” Meijeong paused, trying to think of how to explain it to him. How to make him see with out… without revealing too much about her own history. “The Rika you describe to me wouldn’t haven’t wanted anyone to worry about her, right? She wouldn’t want to cause anyone else pain. She wanted to make other people happy, so maybe…”

Yoosung sniffed. His hands opened up, relaxing just enough to take Meijeong’s and squeeze them tightly.

“Maybe she thought that not telling anyone and just helping people without stopping would be enough,” Meijeong finished, forcing a sad sort of smile. Her eyes became distant with memories.

“That… does sound like something she would do…” Yoosung sniffed again and let go of Meijeong’s hands so he could wipe his eyes with his sleeve. Taking another deep breath, he smiled.

“It’s been four years since the last Christmas fundraiser. I was only in high school back then. It was my first time helping with any event, so I couldn’t really do that much…” Yoosung chuckled, “Jumin and Zen were busy then too… Rika took care of almost everything.”

“I see…”

“It was Christmas, but she worked so hard!” Yoosung’s eyes lit up, smiling at the memory before growing sad again, “She didn’t even think to enjoy her holiday, just to help other people… If I had known it would be Rika’s last Christmas Party… I should have… done more to help her…”

“Yoosung,” Meijeong spoke seriously, “What happened with Rika was awful, but… if you don’t focus on the present, you’ll never be able to continue her legacy. If you’re always thinking about what you could have done in the past, then you’ll miss the opportunities to do more good in Rika’s name in the future.”

“I’ll always be thinking of Rika when we prepare for RFA events…” Yoosung pursed his lips and frowned, “Or I guess a C&R event this time…”

“Hey, don’t worry about the name,” Meijeong said, “We’ll make sure everyone know’s that we’re here because of Rika. But more than that, let’s try and do even better than last time. I think that’s what would make Rika happiest, to see us do better and better with each event.”

Finally, Yoosung smiled for real. “You’re right. I’ll do my best. Thank you.”

“You can do this Yoosung,” Meijeong smiled back. The waitress seemed to have a ridiculously good sense of timing, because she returned to the table to take drink orders. Meijeong asked for a hot tea, and Yoosung got a soda.

“Knowing that you believe in me makes me feel so much better,” said Yoosung once the waitress left, “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Meijeong said, “Thanks for working so hard.”

After that, it seemed like Yoosung had gotten things off his chest, at least for the time being. He was much more cheerful as they ate their lunches, eagerly explaining everything he knew about the party- even to the point of accidentally choking a bit when he tried to talk with his mouth full. His enthusiasm was infectious. By the time they finished, Meijeong was practically bouncing with excitement.

“I was kind of hoping for snow,” said Yoosung as they walked outside into the winter chill. “But the forecast says it’s not going to.”

Meijeong frowned, disappointed. “I know… there’s just something better about white Christmases. They just feel a tiny bit more magical.”

“Maybe because they’re so rare,” offered Yoosung. He shoved his hands deep into his pockets and let out a long sigh. His breath was visible in the cold. “But I know what you mean.”

“It’ll probably make things easier logistically for the event if the skies are clear though,” Meijeong said, tucking her hair behind her ear as the breeze blew.

“Mmm…” Yoosung hummed thoughtfully, “I think we’ll probably be prepared for anything though. Especially with Jaehee here.”

“Very true,” Meijeong laughed. “She’s incredible. I don’t know how she can possibly do all that she does.”

Then the event venue was in sight, and so was Jaehee, already hard at work directing staff at where to place the large stage and lighting set ups. She smiled when she saw them, already looking a bit tired and harried. Meijeong waved as she and Yoosung wove through the mess of chairs, boxes, and workers to reach Jaehee.

“It’s a bit of a mess right now,” Jaehee said, looking over a checklist on her clipboard.

“We’ll make sure it’s perfect by tomorrow,” Meijeong grinned, “Just tell me what you need me to do.”

“Yeah,” said Yoosung brightly, “Let’s do it. For Rika.”

 

 

It was past midnight by the time Meijeong got home that night, exhausted. It took all her mental willpower not to simply collapse face first on the couch and sleep like that until morning, but there were still things she needed to do be ready for event- most importantly, showering and laying out her outfit. She was actually looking forward to dressing up nice. It was rare that she had the occasion to wear anything truly formal, though in this case her nicest black dress was going to be supplemented with a very festive holiday-printed knitted shawl. After her shower, Meijeong made sure it and the dress were spotless and ready before climbing into bed with a cup of peppermint tea. She just hoped she would be relaxed enough to sleep.

Out of habit, she opened the RFA app one last time. Thankfully, there weren’t any emails from guests to worry about, and it looked like only Jaehee and Seven were in the chatroom, so the likelihood of drama was low.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang: Luciel… uhm…

MC: Hey hey hey Seven

MC: Jaehee, did you get home safe?

707: Ho Ho Ho Meijeong

MC: lolol ^^

Jaehee Kang: Yes, I’m home now, thank you

Jaehee Kang: But Luciel…

707: Yeh?

Jaehee Kang: I have a favor to ask.

707: ;;;;

Jaehee Kang: I know you’re busy… but, if you could, if you just have one hour…

Jaehee Kang: Could please come to the event tomorrow?

Jaehee Kang: The staff member who was supposed to dress up as Santa Claus isn’t feeling well apparently.

707: uh

MC: Oh crap

MC: And here I thought we had everything ready

Jaehee Kang: It needs to be someone who enjoys running around like a kind, and I couldn’t think of anyone else other than you.

707: Hmm.

Jaehee Kang: Plus… you do have bright red hair, so it’s perfect for Christmas.

MC: OMG

MC: Can we put like

MC: ornaments and holly and stuff in your hair

MC: That would be so cute!

707: Ahhhh >.<

707: I have a picture from when a Honey Buddha chip crumb stuck in my hair

Jaehee Kang: I don’t need that picture…

MC: lol not quite the same thing

707: yeah

707: It would be really hard for me to come lololol

Jaehee Kang: Luciel…

Jaehee Kang: We’re in a really tight spot here, so if there’s any way at all that you could…

707: T_T sorry…

707: I have too much work…

Jaehee Kang: I see…

MC: T_T

Jaehee Kang: I know you are very busy. I only asked just in case.

707: Okies T_T

707: ;; >_< ;;

MC: I wish there was some way you could come tomorrow

MC: I really wanted to see you

Jaehee Kang: Even V will be there…

707: >_<

707: I plan to

707: ground myself tomorrow.

Jaehee Kang: You really are quite busy…

MC: Yeah

MC: I can understand why you need to be alone and stuff

MC: But it’s still a bummer T_T

707: loool I appreciate your effort to understand me

707: Even though

707: I don’t want you to…

MC: lol why not?

707: I wasn’t expecting this

707: my heart’s kind of racing

707: Truly

707: I’ll see you after Christmas…

707: I’m sorry…

Jaehee Kang: Of course…

MC: I promise to give you your cookies then, okay?

Jaehee Kang: I had… quite a few of them today

Jaehee Kang: More than I should have to be honest

MC: I’m glad you liked them <3 <3

Jaehee Kang: they were quite good, and I was so stressed out from all the work that I didn’t have time to eat anything else

MC: Ahhhhh yeah, stress eating T_T

MC: We’re working hard enough to burn off any extra calories though

707: I’m sorry I can’t help

707: You two… and Yoosung…

707: It’s so cool that you guys are working so hard

707: To make sure that one more person gets a chance of happiness tomorrow

707: You’re not like me…

MC: No, Seven

MC: Don’t be so hard on yourself

Jaehee Kang: It’s not as if you don’t want to help, Luciel.

Jaehee Kang: I’m sure you would be working right along side us if you only had the time.

Jaehee Kang: And you’ll be working by yourself all of Christmas Day. I wish you the best of luck.

707: Thanks for putting it that way.

Jaehee Kang: ~* ^_^ *~

707: I am…

707: …..

707:

707: ..

Jaehee Kang: >.>

707: .

MC: How about you become a star, Fairy 707, for all the children to wish upon for Chrismas!

707: *

Jaehee Kang: ;;; I must get some sleep for tomorrow.

MC: uugghhh we have to get up so earlyyy

MC: ;;

707: yup yup

707: Go and get some sleep.

MC: See you tomorrow, bright and early!

Jaehee Kang: Yes, then please excuse me.

707: You guys…

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

707: did so great. Respect yo!!

707: Oh, she left.

707: Uhm…

MC: Are you sure there’s no way you can come tomorrow?

MC: Even if it’s just at the very end

MC: It makes me so sad to think of you all alone

707: I’m a secret agent in the shadows

707: unsuited for a jolly event like that… lol

707: I’m gonna stick with that!

MC: Seven…

MC: Are you sure you’re alright?

707: I’ll go now! Go to sleep early… okay?

707: Okay, bye!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC: I’m worried that there’s something wrong…

MC:

MC: but you’re gone in a flash;;

MC: Goodnight, everyone!

MC: It’s after midnight, so Merry Christmas!

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Seven… something, and Meijeong wasn’t sure what, really was bothering him. In the dark light of the bedroom, Meijeong’s fingers hovered over the call button, wondering if it would make things better or worse if she dialed. She hated the idea of him being so isolated on Christmas, but… for whatever reason, it seemed to be that he wanted it that way. Between his talk of disliking Santa (which seemed genuine despite the jokes) and his complete avoidance of participating in anything related to the holiday, Meijeog couldn't help but think there was something amiss. But it was late, and Seven didn't seem inclined to talk about it, so with a sigh, she set her phone down and turned off the last of the lights before crawling into bed.

It had taken a while to get used to this mattress, which was much firmer than what she was used to. But now, it felt comfortable and natural, especially on cold nights like this one when Meijeong could pile as many blanket and pillows around her as she wanted without overheating. She wiggled down into the big fluffy pile until she felt snuggly and sleepy.

Slowly, she felt herself relax and her body grew heavy. Meijeong’s last thought was a Christmas wish, the same one she had been making on Christmas Eve for as long as she could remember.

Chapter Text

“Please make your donations over there. You two look so happy together. All the donations we receive today will be used to benefit several local charities that help provide in need children with holiday celebrations, food and gifts. Oh, you’re acquainted with Jumin Han? I know he’ll be glad to see you. Could you please wait over there until Jumin comes? I’ll make sure to have him over here in just a moment…”

“Now, next?”

Meijeong felt like her greetings were getting to be a bit formulaic at this point. She had spent hours at the donation box, greeting each guest. And despite the fact that her job was technically inviting and coordinating guests, so far that hadn’t been many people here that she herself had spoken to. Most of the guests were celebrities in shimmering dresses and elegant tuxedos or extremely wealthy businessmen in suits with connections to Jumin, making it a little hard personalize every encounter. Some guests, however, were much more familiar, if a touch surprising.

“Mrs. Lee!” said Meijeong, her cheerful smile completely genuine, “I didn’t realize I would be seeing you here today!”

“Oh my dear! This is a surprise for me too,” Mrs. Lee crooned. “I didn’t know you worked for the RFA… or is it C&R this year? I hope that philandering Chairman Han isn’t using this as a chance to find his next girlfriend. Make sure you stay away from him dear. Oh, the scandals that man breeds…”

Meijeong snorted down a laugh as fast as she could, which caused Mrs. Lee to chuckle merrily and pat Meijeong’s hand. The older woman’s usual flower printed silk shawl was replaced with a heavy fur wrap, and she wore far more jewelry than Meijeong had ever seen her with at the bookstore. Meijeong supposed that it made sense that her favorite customer was here- she was the widow of an extremely wealthy business heir, but it hadn’t occurred to her that that meant Mrs. Lee might have been in involved with both the RFA and C&R.

“There was a last minute name change, Mrs. Lee, but this is still very much an RFA event,” Meijeong said with a smile, “And no, I don’t believe Chairman Han will be in attendance today.”

Mrs. Lee laughed, “That’s good to hear. You know, my late husband, God Rest His Soul,” she paused pressed her hand to her heart, eyes shimmering, “He was such a huge supporter of the RFA. He would have been devastated by what had happened... I thank God every day that he passed before Rika, before that poor woman…”

Mrs. Lee dabbed at her eyes. “I never met her, never went to one of these events myself. But when I heard that the RFA was becoming active again, I knew I had to go in both their memories.”

“Well, thank you so much Mrs. Lee,” said Meijeong, “I’m sure both of them are smiling down on you right now. Please feel free to make donations up this way, and I hope to get to see you again before the event is over.”

“Of course, of course,” Mrs. Lee waved Meijeong away and back to the next guests, “Don’t worry about me, dear. We can chat next time I come in for a book. I’ll want to hear how you got involved in this wonderful organization.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Meijeong said, before turning cheerfully to greet the next in line. “Hello, sir, madam, it’s wonderful to have you here to support the children’s charities this holiday season. Donations can be made-“

“Meijeong!” Yoosung’s voice called out over the crowd, though Meijeong couldn’t see him.

“-Over there...” Meijeong finished, turning to find the source of his voice. She saw some blonde hair weaving through the crowds as politely as possible. Eventually, Yoosung’s face appeared and he trudged up to the donation podium to join her.

“Jaehee sent me to relieve you, since you’ve up here by yourself for over four hours now,” Yoosung said, a little out of breath. “She said you should get a quick break and then find her to help with some of the guests who are seated already.” Yoosung’s face was flushed red from exertion and excitement, but his smile was bright.

“Okay, that sounds good,” Meijeong smiled, forcing the sigh of relief to wait until she was out of sight of the guests. “I’ll head to the back now. Oh, and Yoosung…”

“Yes?”

“A lot of guests have talked to me about Rika. They’re saying that they remember her, and that they’re glad to see her work continuing,” Meijeong gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. Yoosung’s eyes were watery, glimmering under the lights, but when he looked up at Meijeong, his smiled shone brighter than any star.

“Thank you,” Yoosung said, wiping his eyes with his sleeve, “We should keep working hard then!” He immediately turned to the next guests in line, waving them up with smile. “Up here please, we thank you so much for your generosity. This year’s donations benefit…" 

Meijeong seized the opportunity to slip quietly into the crowd, smiling politely at guests she recognized and those who had already made their donations as she wove her way back to the staging area behind the screens. Grabbing a cup of hot chocolate, she sat down with a sigh and leaned back in the chair. Heels, though not nearly as miserable than most people made them out to be, still tended to be hard on the legs after hours on her feet. The event had started first thing in the morning, and now it was almost five o’clock, so Meijeong was grateful for a brief free moment to sit down behind the scenes. The fundraiser was supposed to stop at nine, but if the crowded lines continued to grow, who knew how late she and the others would be there.

Her eyes glanced over to the corner, where the now empty Santa toy bag lay along with the costume. Jaehee was truly a miracle worker and had managed to find someone willing to step in last minute, but Meijeong was immediately reminded of Seven’s inability to do so by seeing it all now. She opened the RFA app, wondering how he, and of course Zen too, were doing on their own.

Zen was not there, though there were a lot of comments in chat logs from him. Meijeong felt kind of bad… he really was miserable being stuck at rehearsals… and apparently their roles were getting switched around. She was about to leave the chatroom to send him a private message when-

 

707 has entered the chatroom.

707: KNOCK

707: KNOCK

707: ECHO~

707: E C H O

MC: E C HO ECHO

707: Oh it’s a human!

707: ~* >u< *~

707: Here~ it’s here!

MC: Yes, I am here!

MC: but

MC: God Seven’s gloominess can be felt… T_T

707: XoX !?

707: Huh, you can feel that?

707: Wow…

707: Are you holding an antenna that’s only working for me, Meijeong?

707: Or is it a Christmas miracle…?

707: Hmmm…

MC: Santa told me. I had him spy on you~

707: GAH

707: NO

707: I can’t believe I let my guard down on Christmas… ;;

707: Christmas…

707: Ch…ris…mas….

707: Chris… mas…

707:

MC: ??

707: It’s Christmas

MC: It sure is

MC: ^^

707: I hope you’re doing well

707: Give and get gifts

707: and eat something delicious…

707: Like a second birthday…

MC: You should do all that too! Spend today celebrating!

MC: Come get the cookies I made you!

MC: Or whatever makes you happy. Make a Christmas tree shaped rocket ship

707: Hmmm… they don’t have Christmas in space, so it would be a waste…

707: Haha………

707: I’m fine to spend an ordinary day.

707: Jaehee mentioned something about it

707: that there are things you feel like you have to do on Christmas

707: because of what we see on TV

707: Things like that can really make some people miserable…

707: Uhm…

707: I… think that way too.

MC: T_T

707: Not everyone in the world can be happy

707: If we say there are 100 people in this world

707: 17 of those 100 might have an unhappy Christmas

707: and 1 or 2 of out of those might be really really unhappy

707: on Christmas…

707: so unhappy

707: that they hate it when Christmas comes around every year.

707: That might be highly possible.

707: ;; >_< ;;

MC: Seven…

MC: I can totally understand, I’ve had Christmases that weren’t so good but...

MC: I hope you’re not included in those last ones

MC: The thought of it makes my heart ache…

707: Ah, I didn’t want to make you worry…

707: Meijeong, you’re a nice person. I don’t want to see you sad…

MC: I’m just worried about you, silly.

MC: I wish there was some way I could help with whatever it is you’re going through

707: Meijeong…

707: Please keep your heart hidden deep inside, so you don’t get hurt

707: So that it won’t be broken by anyone… So it’ll always be beautiful

MC: Seven?

MC: Seriously, you can talk to me.

MC: I want to help.

707: I don’t want you to feel bad because of someone like me…

707: Just know that…

707: There are people enduring hardship everywhere

707: If something traumatic happened in their past

707: they might become so depressed that

707: they can’t do anything today.

MC: Seven…

MC: Did… did something like that happen to you?

MC: I want to help, but… I don’t know anything

707: Of course you don’t

707: ~* I have 707 different identities *~

MC: lololol

MC: God Seven of 707 Different Faces!

707: lololol

707: there are 16 cat faces among them!

707: truly I am a mighty god

707: None may know my truth

MC: lolololol

MC: But seriously, if you need something…

707: I have 707 identities

707: I might not be the person you know…

707: Hmm…

MC: Hmm...

MC: Well, I hope I get to know all 707 faces one day

707:

MC: BUT 

MC: I have to get back to work. This is just a short break

707: Yeah

707: My boss will get mad if I slack off for too long…

MC: Yeah…

MC: Well… my new Christmas wish will be for at least one of God Seven’s identities to be truly happy for the holiday, even if all of them can’t be

MC: okay?

707: That’s… you shouldn’t waste a wish like that on me…

MC: Too late, already did it! No take-backs!

MC: I gotta go now, byyyyee!!

MC has left the chatroom.

707:

707 has left the chatroom.

 

More worried about Seven then ever, Meijeong finished the hot chocolate and stood up slowly, making sure her sore legs could handle being up on heels again. She tucked her phone away, and then started out to look for Jaehee. Turning the corner quickly, she stopped herself just short of plowing into Jumin. Startled, Jumin stumbled back a step.

“S-sorry,” Meijeong stammered apologetically. She hugged her arms around herself and looked down, embarrassed. “I didn’t see you there.”

“The fault is mine,” said Jumin, politely, but he also looked away. There was a long, awkward pause and Meijeong suddenly realized that this was the first time they had been alone together since she fled his home.

“I was… just going to find Jaehee…” Meijeong paused, biting her lip and frowning.

“Assistant Kang was at the front of the line directing guests… when I saw her last,” said Jumin. He adjusted his sleeves, lips twitching down uncomfortably.

“Oh… thank you…” Meijeong said. “Uhm…”

A staff member scurried between them, hurrying back to grab more chairs. Jumin started to head back to the room Meijeong had come from, but
“Is… Has V arrived yet?” Meijeong asked.

“Not yet,” Jumin sighed, looking a tiny bit frustrated. “I don’t know what he’s thinking these days. He did say he would be here before the end.”

“I hope at least you get to see him before Christmas is over,” Meijeong said.

“Thank you…” Jumin nodded and smiled, though it had a bit of a forced look to it.

“Yeah…” Meijeong felt another awkward pause growing, “I should go find Jaehee.” She said, gesturing over her shoulder.

“Of course,” said Jumin.

With an awkward acknowledging nod, Meijeong hurried off to the event entrance where Jaehee had been last, hoping to get back to work and distract herself from just how painfully uncomfortable talking to Jumin was now. It felt like a bad breakup with a boyfriend, only in a lot of ways it was worse- at least relationships start out with both people feeling the same way. With Jumin it was-

“Nope,” Meijeong said to herself, “This isn’t the time to think about all of that.” She tucked a few stray hairs back into place, adjusted the holiday printed shawl so that it lay nicely across her back and shoulders, and made her way out across the event stage.

Meijeong could see Yoosung at the donation box still, practically radiating joy to every person he greeted. Jaehee took a bit longer to spot since she was mingling amongst the crowds, but eventually Meijeong found her- clipboard, headset, and all. There was an issue with guests who had already donated blocking walkways. Apparently there wasn’t enough seating, and the layout wasn’t quite working either. The two of them got to work, redirecting traffic and instructing works how to set up the extra seats. It went smoother than expected- having two of them there helped.

“Have you heard anything from Zen?” Meijeong asked when they had a second to catch their breaths.

“He’s still in rehearsal, unfortunately,” said Jaehee, sighing, “Although I understand that as an actor its important for him to be ready to work at a moment’s notice, I do feel a sort of sad camaraderie with anyone who must work through holidays.”

“It sounds like the company that his theater group is working with isn’t being entirely professional, too,” Meijeong frowned, then quickly changed her expression to a cheerful one as a guest came to ask her a question. “Thank you so much for coming today. The line starts over there, sir.”

“Oh, I’ve already made my donation,” said the slightly intoxicated, cheery-looking gentleman, “Are you the new coordinator?”

“Yes, hello,” Meijeong said, shaking his hand firmly, “Are you Yoonsung Kim, the winery owner Mr. Han introduced us to?”

“Oh yes, Jumin is a great friend,” Mr. Kim said. Meijeong realized by the slight slur to his words that his red face was not quite from the cold, “If I could borrow you for a moment, I wanted to discuss the wine selection for when you eventually host the RFA party.”

“Go ahead, Meijeong,” Jaehee said, “I can handle things here.”

The winery owner immediately recognized Jaehee, shaking her hand genially as well, before reintroducing himself to Meijeong and shaking her hand again. Smiling, Meijeong allowed him to take her arm and escort her to the small bar that was set up. The discussion didn’t require much brainpower on her part, as he repeated himself often. Thankfully, his daughter intercepted him before very long, and Meijeong found herself free again.

The weather had been fairly mild for December, but as the evening went on and the sky grew darker, the temperature began to drop. This didn’t seem to deter the donors from arriving, however, people weren’t staying as long, preferring instead to donate and hurry back to warm cars and homes. The skies were still clear, much to Yoosung and Meijeong’s disappointments.

“I know it’s probably easier for people to come here if the weather is good, but…” Meijeong sighed.

“Right?” Yoosung said as he helped the next donor, an elderly couple, up the steps, “White Christmas’s really do feel more magical somehow.”

“And Christmas is almost over,” Meijeong said, looking up at the big screen, where the total donations and the time were listed in bright lettering next to the video of the donation box. The event was due to close at nine, only 30 minutes away, but the line for donations was so long that even if they shut that down at nine on the dot they would probably still be accepting donations until another hour, which is why Yoosung had just come up to join her and help the line move more quickly.

“I can’t believe how well we’re doing,” Meijeong said, smiling and graciously nodding the next guest forward, “I just wish Seven and Zen could be here.”

“Yeah…” Yoosung frowned. He looked a little more upset than Meijeong thought he would about their absence.

“What’s wrong?” Meijeong asked, putting her hand on his shoulder.

Yoosung took her hand and gave it a squeeze, smiling. His cheerfulness seemed tainted by the tiniest flicker of anger, and Meijeong suddenly realized the answer.

“V’s not here yet, is he?” she said softly, biting her lip with a frown.

“Step right up here please,” Yoosung turned back to Meijeong after directing the next donor. “Yeah. I don’t know why I expected any different, but…”

“I understand,” Meijeong said, “You had a tiny bit of hope. Thank you so much for your charity, and Merry Christmas!” The line was moving a little faster with two of them, but it was still going to be a later event than planned for sure.

“And he let us down, again,” said Yoosung.

Meijeong wasn’t really sure what to say to cheer him up. V did say that he would be late, but… well, the event was almost over, and there had been no sign of him at all. She was grateful then, that the next guest brought up Rika. Her name was enough to cheer up Yoosung now when Meijeong couldn’t, and time flew by as they greeted donor after donor.

Jaehee came to them shortly after 9 o’clock. “We’ve closed the line, so no one new can show up, but it’s still quite long,” she said, sighing. “Meijeong, I’ll take your place here, could you please alert the bar staff they should close.”

“Of course…” said Meijeong, noticing a sort of guilty look on Jaehee’s face. “What else do you need me to do?

“Could you please…” Jaehee paused, “Find Mr. Han? Since the event is C&R’s name, he’ll need to give closing remarks. I think he’s ignoring my calls, but he probably won’t do that to you.”

Smiling, Meijeong sighed and rolled her eyes. Even as awkward as things were with Jumin, she couldn’t deny that Jaehee was absolutely right. “I’ll find him and let him know, Jaehee.”

“Thank you,” Jaehee replied, taking her place next to Yoosung and helping the next donor in line.

Meijeong wandered through the crowds, keeping her eyes peeled for Jumin as she made her way to the bar. It was still very busy despite the late hour, and there were quite a few guests who rushed forward at the bartender’s ‘last call’ announcement. They weren’t offering food, only drinks, and Meijeong very much hoped that none of the people she saw there planned on driving anywhere. Given the amount of money that had been donated by the faces she recognized, they probably had drivers waiting in limos anyway. After the rush, one of the bartenders thought they saw Jumin head to the backstage area, and so Meijeong hurried that way.

In the back, Meijeong heard raised voices and paused. With the quiet roar behind her from the crowds, it took her a moment to recognize them.

“Are you still mad at me?” she heard V see from the other side of the door.

“I don’t feel pleasant when I think of you, and if that’s being ‘mad’…” Jumin definitely sounded mad. His voice had an icy coldness about it that had nothing to do with the weather, “Then I suppose you could put it that way.”

“Yes, I understand,” V said, “Just know that I desperately hope to explain everything one day…”

“I recognize your sincerity, but I can’t help but think that you’re saying the same thing all over again.”

There was a cheer behind her from the crowd, drowning out part of the conversation. Meijeong crept forward, getting as close to the open doorway as she could without being seen. It occurred to her that eavesdropping on a private conversation wasn’t exactly an admirable thing to do, but her curiosity won over her best judgment regardless.

“We shared so many silent promises. But you are different now. You hide and apologize and that’s it,” said Jumin.

“Please know that I’m the same person deep down inside,” V was clearly apologizing for something, but Meijeong couldn’t figure out exactly what. Coming late to the event wasn’t something that would get Jumin this fired up.

“Right now, your words and actions don’t match.”

“I didn’t want to disappoint you,” V continued, “I’m so sorry…”

“I’ve heard you say sorry enough,” Jumin snapped, “I’m getting sick of this same cycle.”

Their voices grew too quiet for Meijeong to hear. Tucking her hair out of the way of her ears, she crept forward just a tiny bit more.

“V… You...” Jumin sounded sad now, rather than angry, “You might no longer be able to read them. I suggest you look through them before it’s too late. Because when I read those letters… It hit me that our friendship may only remain in those letters. Just that thought alone tortured me.”

That’s the second time Jumin’s said something about V’s vision and eyes. Meijeong thought to herself. No one else had said anything about it, but…

“Jumin… You will always be my most precious friend,” V said, and Meijeong snuck a peek into the room. V’s head was bent down, and Meijeong saw that he was wearing sunglasses. “I have nothing to say for hurting you.”

Jumin stepped forward, his back blocking her view. “I didn’t say I was hurt.”

“I could still tell. You’re my friend. I haven’t changed the way I think of you. I remember all the moments we shared. From the moment I met you as a child standing in front of those high walls, to you asking me all those questions yesterday. Right now…” V seemed sad, but more than that, resigned. As if some heavy weight hung on his shoulders, “I’m following the path fate set for me. Even if I have to create misunderstandings and secrets…”

Meijeong realized she was holding her breath, and wondered briefly if Jumin was too.

“It’s the reason I’m alive,” V said, “So I can’t stop. Even if I have to keep creating more and more secrets, even if everyone else hates me. It’s okay if you can’t understand me right now… The only thing I know for sure is that this is how my life has to be right now. I don’t want to hurt you or the other members. But I can’t change the fact that this is my purpose. My reason for living…”

“…God,” Jumin’s shoulders slouched, and Meijeong saw him rub his forehead, “Is there really no other way, V…?”

“There is no other way. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time…”

“Still the philosopher I see. Reason for living…” Jumin sighed, “You must have a much more complicated reason for living then the rest of us…”

“You’re trying to understand me?” V sounded rather touched.

“It’s impossible for me to understand you in this situation. I don’t have enough information,” Jumin chuckled, “Didn’t I just get a lecture from you about not forcing my understanding on situations I haven’t experience from myself?”

V laughed, and the sound was so genuine that it made Meijeong smile. “I suppose I did, didn’t I? I’m glad it got you thinking differently about everyone, not just cats.”

“Yes… and… now that you’re mentioning your reason for living, I don’t think I can continue complaining. If that is your life has to be…” Jumin paused, “I can’t pry any further. I suppose… I have to let it go for now.”

“Jumin… Thank you so much for understanding,” V said, “Your acknowledgement means a lot to me.”

Sensing an end to the conversation, Meijeong scrambled backwards away from the door before she could be seen. Straightening up, she brushed off her dress. As soon as the Jumin and V walked out the door, Meijeong strode forward, feigning innocence.

“V!” she called out cheerfully, “I’m so glad you’re here. When did you arrive?”

“Just now,” V said, smiling, “I’m sorry that I’m so late.”

“It’s fine. We’re just glad to have you here now,” Meijeong said, and she meant it, “Oh, and Jumin, Jaehee was looking for you. Something about closing remarks.”

“Ah, right,” said Jumin, adjusting his suit tie, “I’ll be right there. Excuse me.” He strutted past her briskly, fixing his cufflinks.

Meijeong and V followed after him, albeit at a much slower pace.

“Is everything alright V?” Meijeong asked cautiously.

V simply smiled, “Of course, Meijeong. Thank you for all your hard work putting this together.

“Jaehee and Yoosung did the heavy lifting,” Meijeong said. “I mostly just smiled and greeted people.”

“That’s a difficult task, and one that you apparently excel at, judging by the turnout,” V said, smiling. “This was all possible because of you. I’m glad you joined the RFA, even under unusual circumstances.”

The two of them walked out into the main event area. To Meijeong’s delight, delicate white flakes of snow had begun to drift down slowly through the air, barely visible against the lights. Up on stage, Jumin stood holding a microphone, addressing the last of the crowd.

“What’s the total?” V asked, and Meijeong knew, then, that there was something truly wrong with his vision.

“$293,612,” read Meijeong off the bold screen, “Not bad at all for the RFA’s first event in 3 years.”

“Not bad at all,” said V with a soft smile.

As Jumin announce the total, fireworks erupted from behind the screen, lighting up the night joyously in bright colors. V and Meijeong watched quietly, waiting for them to end. It was only a quick two-minute display, and when it was finished, Meijeong sighed contentedly.

“Merry Christmas, V.”

“Yes…” V paused, looking distant for a moment before meeting her eyes. “Meijeong…”

“What is it?” Meijeong frowned, worried. Her thoughts turned back to the conversation she overheard earlier and she wondered if perhaps V had seen her eavesdropping after all.

“Please be safe and happy. And… ” V began, “Please take good care of the RFA members.”

Meijeong laughed lightly, feeling a bit embarrassed. “That’s what I should be saying to you, you know.”

“No, I need to be the one saying it to you now…” V gazed up toward the stage where Jumin, Jaehee, and Yoosung were gathered, saying farewell to the straggling guests. 

“V…” Meijeong frowned.

“I love everyone in the RFA,” V said, smiling sadly. “Jumin seems so logical, but he’s hiding his emotional side deep within. Jaehee seems to be on top of everything but her anxiety might consume her if she's not careful. Yoosung seems like an ordinary college student, but he has fire in his heart. Hyun has deep wounds from his family. And Luciel… has had a very complicated life..." 

V paused. "And I think you’ll be able to heal everyone.” 

“V, why are you telling me this right now…?”

“Once, I thought that I’d be the one to heal everyone in the RFA,” V replied, “But I think it’s safe to call that arrogance now. Meijeong…” He took her hand gently in both of his. His brow was furrowed with worry.

“Please take good care of the RFA,” V continued, “You were chosen after all.”

Meijeong shook her head slightly, biting her lip. “Chosen? V, what do you mean?”

“Oh, that came out wrong,” V said, “I just meant that you have taken up the position of guest coordinator.”

“Alright…” Meijeong said. There was a strange, sinking feeling in her stomach. “V… why does this feel like some sort of goodbye?”

“The holiday just has me feeling emotional, that’s all,” said V casually, and Meijeong knew, somehow, that he was lying. About what, though, was still unclear. V began walking around to the front of the stage. “We shouldn’t keep the others waiting.”

“Okay…” Meijeong said, catching up to him and putting her hand on his arm, “But please tell me if you’re going through a hard time, okay?

V smiled and took her arm, escorting her politely (though perhaps, judging by his uneasiness walking through a crowd, she was escorting him)

“You are so kind…” he said as they reached the others.

Before Meijeong could respond, Yoosung and Jaehee were right in front of her, glowing with excitement and exhaustion over the success of the event and spoiling her chance to question V further for the evening.

Chapter Text

MC: You’re not still at rehearsal, are you Zen?

MC: There’s barely an hour left of Christmas T_T

ZEN: No, we’re done now

ZEN: Thank god

ZEN: I’m glad that the fundraiser went well, but ;;

ZEN: I wish I could have been there!!

MC: Yeah

MC: You and Seven both missed it

MC: I wish everyone could have been there

ZEN: Speaking of Seven

ZEN: He’s acting even weirder than usual today

Jaehee Kang has entered the chatroom.

ZEN: He’s always been quiet on Christmas

ZEN: But he’s still coming into the chatroom a lot this year

Jaehee Kang: He seems to dislike the holiday

Jaehee Kang: which I never would have expected

MC: Right?

MC: It seems like the kind of thing Seven would really enjoy but…

ZEN: He’s talked more about it with you then he ever has with any of us though

Jaehee Kang: Luciel seems to reveal more about himself in general when Meijeong is around

MC: ??

MC: really?

MC: I didn’t notice

Yoosung* has entered the chatroom.

MC: Or I guess there would be no way for me to know that anyway, since I didn’t know him before I knew him lol

Yoosung*: Zen!

Yoosung*: Did you hear how great the event went?

Yoosung*: We raised so much money

Yoosung*: and so many people were talking about Rika and the RFA even with the name change

ZEN: Yeah, Meijeong told me some already

ZEN: Man…

ZEN: U-U //

ZEN: I wish I could have been there

Jaehee Kang: Theoretically, we should be having more events like this in the near future

Jaehee Kang: Now that we’ve done one so successfully with Meijeong as guest coordinator

MC: ^//^

MC: I don’t know that it had much to do with me

MC: You and Yoosung did all the hard stuff

MC: I just talked to people

ZEN: We wouldn’t have had an event all if not for you

Yoosung*: Yeah! And thanks to you lots of people showed up

Jaehee Kang: Talking to people and convincing them to donate, as well as to attend later parties is quite a skill

Jaehee Kang: It seems that, like Rika, you have quite a knack for it

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom.

Jumin Han: Many of those in attendance were extremely complimentary

Jumin Han: What you achieved is certainly praiseworthy

Jaehee Kang: Exactly

MC: Thanks guys ^^

ZEN: Hearing how good you did makes wish I was there even more.

MC: Well, I’ll tell you more about it tomorrow

MC: We’re still good for drinks?

ZEN: hell yeah!

Yoosung*: I’m coming to!

Jaehee Kang: I’m going to have to pass

Jaehee Kang: I have a lot of work to catch up on

MC: You just spent two days working non-stop!

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: Hey trust fund kid

ZEN: this is your fault, right?

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang has a set workload

Jumin Han: It’s up to her to find a way to complete it in a timely fashion

ZEN: <_< …

Yoosung*: Jaehee needs time to rest! She already worked through the holiday

MC: Yeah…

MC: I think this is a special situation, Jumin

MC: you ought to give her a little extra time

Jumin Han:

MC: OH

MC: Seven is calling me

Yoosung*: Make sure you tell him all the good news

ZEN: Yeah, try and cheer him up

MC: got to go

MC has left the chatroom.

 

“Oh! You took my call…” Seven sounded disappointed, “I’m not ready yet, so I’m going to hang up and dial again.”

“What? No! Wait!” Meijeong exclaimed, startling the taxi driver, “No no no no! Don’t go!”

Seven cackled joyfully. “I just said it to see you flustered,” he said, obviously pleased with his joke, “Did the event go well?”

“Jerk. I’m too tired to tell when you’re teasing,” said Meijeong. “But it was amazing. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy doing it…” She paused, with a soft sigh. “I wish you could have been there though." 

“Well…” Seven was still much quieter than usual. The sound of rapid typing on a keyboard could be heard in the background. “I’m glad you enjoyed your Christmas."

“Thanks…” said Meijeong. She looked out the taxi window. The snow was still falling, and the apartment was only a few more blocks away. “So what’s up?" 

“I…” Seven paused, and the faint clicks from typing stopped, “I called because I had something I wanted to tell you before the day was over.”

“Yeah?" 

“I thought…” Seven’s voice was more tentative then she had ever heard it, “You’d understand my story. I’ve never told anyone else what I’m about to tell you right now.“

Meijeong bit her lip, worried. “Okay. Is this about why you’ve been so down these past two days?”

“Yes…” Seven paused again, then began to explain. “To be honest, every Christmas I imagine that I am far away from Earth in outer space. Christmas is an event that only happens on Earth… in space, it would be peaceful. Space is home to so many beautiful mysteries, energy, dark matter, meteors, auroras… There wouldn’t be any crying children or scary adults. There wouldn’t be any old men with long beards in red suits…" 

“You mean Santa Claus?” Meijeong said. The taxi stopped in front the of the apartment, and she clumsily got out. Trying to balance her phone and purse and body on the slightly slippery ground was a bit trickier with exhausted legs and heels.

“Yeah. The icon of hopes and dreams… haha…” Seven gave a weak, sardonic laugh. “To be honest, I don’t really like Santa Claus. All of children want to receive presents, but it’s unfair that some get them and some don’t.”

Meijeong leaned against the doors, pushing them open with her body weight. “I’m back at the apartment, fyi, so if I lose you in the elevator don’t worry,” she said, hitting the elevator button with her elbow. “If Santa were real- really real- I think things would be different. But in reality… not everyone gets a gift from Santa.

“Yeah, you’re right. Not… everyone can…” Seven sighed, “But everyone wants to get presents. That’s the trouble with Christmas. Everyone’s free to picture what they want to get… but…”

Meijeong frowned as she got off the elevator and unwrapped her scarf from her neck. What to say… When she got to the security camera, she paused and played with a loose strand of hair.

“You want to know a secret?” she said, looking up at the camera and leaning against the wall directly across from it, “Something I’ve never told anyone before?" 

“Hmmm…? Oh, yes!!” Seven said brightly, “I want to know a secret.”

“Hmm… well, how to explain,” Meijeong paused, biting her lip thoughtfully, “I really love Christmas, and I have a lot of really happy memories of family from the holidays. So even though I figured out Santa wasn’t real when I was very young, it felt weird not making some kind of wish on Christmas, you know?”

“Mhhmm,” said Seven.

“I don’t remember how old I was, but I just remember be struck by the feeling I had lying in bed on Christmas Eve… I could see the glow of Christmas lights through the window, smell candles and cookies downstairs, wrapped up in blankets and listening to Christmas carols and just feeling completely safe and whole…” Meijeong frowned, feeling silly, and crossed her arms.

“I remember realizing how lucky I was for that. And so my wish, every Christmas Eve since then…” she looked down, smiling softly. “I wished everyone could rest like that on Christmas Eve. That every person around the world could feel perfectly safe and comfortable and loved for just that one night out of the year.”

Seven didn’t respond, but she could tell he was listening intently because the keyboard typing hadn’t started up again.

“Even on years where I don’t exactly feel that myself… I ask Santa or God or… whoever might be listening for just that one wish. So now that I know you don’t feel good at Christmas…“ Meijeong laughed at herself, sighing, “Well, I want to find a way that I can make that come true for you, Seven.”

When he didn’t respond, she laughed again, feeling awkward. “That’s sounds dumb, I know,” she said, kicking her feet against the floor.

“Mei… You’re so kind,” Seven said, “Do you even realize how kind you really are?”

“It’s just a silly thing I do, haha,” Meijeong said, blushing, “I just meant I was thinking about you. It’s not like I’m actually going out and doing all these great things for people…”

“You work for the RFA, don’t you?”

“Oh, well…” Meijeong said, “That’s different. That’s…”

Seven laughed and Meijeong felt her face grow even redder. She opened her mouth to say something snarky, but he spoke before she could.

“Let me tell you my secret then, because you’re special,” Seven said seriously, “Just you, and no one else.”

“What is it?” said Meijeong. She smiled as, for some reason, she felt a different sort of warm, deep in her chest. 

“I’m at the other side of the universe, deep in space, but another me lives on Earth. The me on earth is a bit different from the me in space, so I’m sure that me is waiting for a gift from Santa…” Seven said, sounding sad. “But I’m far away on the other side of the universe, so I can’t really tell where he is.”

Meijeong nodded and leaned more heavily on the wall, letting herself slide down to a crouch. There was something in Seven’s tone that made her heart feel heavy.

“I have to tell him… not to wait for Santa or presents…” continued Seven “That waiting will only hurt him… That’s what I have to tell him…”

Meijeong took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Seven… if you really feel this strongly about it, then the other Seven… he’ll feel it. I believe that. Love that strong won’t get lost just because it has to travel across the universe.”

“Thank you, Meijeong. You know…” Seven sounded lighter, as if some heavy weight had been lifted, “I think I’ve been waiting all this time for someone to tell me that… I wanted to believe that, but having someone else say it… I’m so happy…”

“Seven?” Meijeong stood up, using the wall to brace her wobbly legs. The idea of getting into the apartment and getting out of dress clothes into something comfortably baggy and flannel printed was a siren call.

“Meijeong… hearing you say that, I think…” Seven laughed, sounding suddenly excited and giddy, “I want to fly to other side of the universe just for you right now. I might hit a meteor or my spaceship might run out of fuel, but I’ll face all those risks to come see you." 

“Oh… I…” Meijeong kicked off her heels as she entered the apartment. The door swung shut behind her. “Well… is it alright if we have a quiet Christmas together? Just here in the apartment. I’m too tired to go out.”

“A quiet Christmas together…?”

“Mhhmm,” Meijeong nodded, “I have cookies, hot chocolate, and blankets. No decorations though… I wish I had lights or a tree or something, but-“

“That sounds… Oh!” Seven said, suddenly a bit manic sounding. “I have an idea. That sounds great. If it’s really all right with you. I’ll be there soon. Stay there!”

“Where would I go?” Meijeong laughed and rolled her eyes.

“I’ll see you soon, bye!”

Seven hung up before she could respond. Meijeong sighed, running her hand back through her hair. The apartment was clean enough, though there was a little bit of laundry that needed put away out of sight back in the bedroom. The cookies she had baked for the RFA were wrapped up on the counter, and she set Zen’s package off to the side so that it wouldn’t be accidentally eaten. She really did wish she had some kind of decorations, but at least she could light an evergreen scented candle. That was something. Meijeong got out a saucepan and began to warm milk on the stove for hot chocolate before changing out of her formal wear…

Except as she stepped into the bedroom, she was suddenly completely unable to decide what she should wear. It wasn’t like this was a date, so… did it really matter if she was just in her pajamas? But staying in a black dress felt weird…

Sighing, she scratched her head and pulled off the dress, staring at her dresser. It didn’t really matter what she wore, but for some reason she pulled open every drawer, staring unhappily at all the contents. A bright red flash of color caught her eye amongst her socks- a pair of ‘ugly’ Christmas leggings that Subin had mailed her last year for Christmas.

“Sweater and leggings,” Meijeong said, “That’s normal and comfy. Okay. Good.” She changed quickly, unsure of how long she would have until Seven arrived. “Okay.”

She scurried around the apartment, trying to think of what else she could do to make things more Christmas-like for Seven. Though she rarely ever turned on Rika’s computer, she figured she could play one of those simulated fireplace things with carols playing the background. She didn’t have chestnuts to roast, but popcorn might be good…

“I don’t want to overwhelm him though,” Meijeong frowned, “But still- Ugh! Why am I over thinking this so much?”

It was a relief when Seven arrived, because she couldn’t pace and worry about planning any longer. The knocks on the door broke through her repetitive thoughts. She practically skipped over, taking a moment to pause and fix her hair before opening it.

“Hey! Merry Christmas!” she said. Her mouth fell open when she saw Seven, wearing a suit and vest and looking… well, rather good in it. “You… look… You dressed up.” She felt that funny sort of warmness in her chest again.

Seven’s face had the tiniest hint of a blush as he laughed. “Is it too much?”

“No- no! I mean…” Meijeong stammered, “You look good! I mean-“ She felt hot again, and she could feel her face getting red again.

Seven laughed more, pulling her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him, sighing.

“Sorry,” she said into his jacket, “I’m being ridiculous.” She could feel him laughing.

“No, don’t be sorry,” he said, “Seeing you this flustered is the best Christmas gift.”

Now it was her turn to laugh. “You say that, but that’s only because you haven’t tried the cookies yet.” She pulled out of the hug and danced away, back to the kitchen. “Come on in!”

“No, wait~!” Seven said, grabbing her hand and pulling her back, “I have something for you first. I prepared a little present for you.”

“Yeah?”

“Mmm-hmm… We have to go somewhere, though. Not far!” he said, when he saw the look on her face, “It’s a secret. Could you put this on?”

“A blindfold?” Meijeong looked at the fabric he held out incredulously. She smiled, shaking her head, but took it from him anyway. Spinning around, she put it over her eyes, handing the ends back to Seven to tie. 

“Okay, this sounds fun, but,” Meijeong said, adjusting the blindfold when he finished, “I’m trusting you.”

She turned around slowly, unable to see anything. Her hands reached out, blindly, but in a moment Seven held them gently. He dropped one, but held on tight to the other, guiding her carefully forward.

“It will be fun! Surprises are best when they suddenly appear right in front of your eyes!” said Seven.

“We’re not going outside, are we? I’m not dressed warm enough to go anywhere…” Meijeong said. She heard the apartment door shut behind her, the telltale beep of the security system clearly audible.

“You’ll be fine,” Seven said, chuckling. He led her down the hall toward the elevator. “…I know you can’t see anything, but I’ll hold onto your hand so don’t worry.”

Meijeong furrowed her brow when she heard the beep of the elevator, her mind racing to figure out what he had planned. She could feel Seven’s eyes on her.

“How is it?” he asked, “Are you okay? You’re not nervous?”

“More curious than nervous,” she said. “Elevator? How far are we going?”

“It won’t be a surprise if I tell you.”

“Hmm… let me see if I can guess then,” she said, faking serious concentration, “With the blindfold on, all my other senses are enhanced now!” She laughed, letting him pull her forward into the elevator.

Seven laughed, letting go of her hand just a second as he pushed the floor button.

“Really…?” he said at normal volume, then whispered quietly. “So if I whisper, you can feel it better? How about if I talk like this?”

Unable to resist another opportunity to get a reaction out of her, he crept silently closer, stepping behind her just a hair, and leaned forward, stopping with his mouth just a breath away from her ear and neck. He blew softly, making her jump and him grin like a fool.

“What I want more than anything else is to travel to out space with you…” he whispered, leaning closer to reach around her waist to grab her opposite hand. “Fuuu…” He blew on her neck again, and this time Meijeong twisted away, frowning. “That tickled, right?” He laughed, but stopped when he saw how red her face was. Something about her expression, that angry-but-not-really pout, made his brain feel fuzzy.

“S-Sorry,” stammered Seven. He felt relieved when she smiled and stuck out her tongue, playing along with the game in her own way. “Thank you… for not hesitating to hold my hand. I was worried you might not want to.”

There was a long pause as the elevator doors opened and he led her forward, nearly to their destination. Just before his free hand reached the next door, Meijeong stopped, holding him back a step.

“Why did you want to be alone on Christmas?” she asked.

It was the one question he didn’t want her to ask. It was the one question he needed her to ask more than anything. He froze… but as if by magic, she seemed to sense his fear, feeling her way closer until her free hand found his shoulder, his sleeve, his other hand. Even with the blindfold on, it felt like her gaze pierced directly into his heart, willing him to reveal all the secrets he had kept hidden for so long.

“I was scared, to be honest…” he said softly. “That if I couldn’t put on a happy face, I’d be isolated from the world…”

“You’re allowed to be sad, no matter what day it is,” Meijeong said, “You don’t have to pretend.”

Seven felt his chest grow tight. He swallowed hard, and squeezed her hands tight. “Yes I do…” he fumbled over the words. “If I’m scared, it only makes him more afraid… I didn’t want him to be afraid on this day…”

“He?" 

He saw her frown and bite her lip, struggling to piece together what he was telling her. He didn’t want her to know the truth, not yet. He couldn’t… but for some reason, deep down, he thought someday he might need her to… to… He squeezed his eyes shut, blinking back the tears, never more grateful for a blindfold.

“Could you… do me a favor?” Seven asked hesitantly.

“Of course,” Meijeong said, giving his hands a reassuring squeeze.

“Could you…” the words caught in his throat, and he took a deep breath, “Could you tell me he’s doing fine…?”

“I’m sure he’s doing fine…” she smiled, in that soft, understanding way that sent a knife through his chest and made his heart ache for things he knew he could never have.

“Thank you… I think so too. I’m sure he got my present…” Seven took a deep breath and focused on the present once again. “Okay, just a few more steps... brace yourself.” 

He opened the door to the roof and laughed as Meijeong swore loudly at the cold wind. 

“Son of a-“ Meijeong tried to move back inside pulling him with her, “I told you I didn’t want to go anywhere!" 

“We didn’t,” laughed Seven, letting go of her hands.

Grumpy at the sudden change in temperature, Meijeong tore off the blindfold, fully prepared to yell at Seven. Instead, she found herself wowed by the sight of the city laid out in front of them.

“Oh…” she said. Her initial reaction of awe tempered by the weather. “This is… cold. Please tell me we didn’t come up here just to be cold.”

Seven laughed and pulled out his phone. “Give me just one second.” He input a few commands, looking up to check to make sure Meijeong didn’t try and immediately run back inside. A few more seconds passed, and then…

The lights on the buildings in front of them began to shift and flicker, slowly forming repeating patterns. Meijeong gasped, forgetting the cold. Some shimmered, the window lights turning on and off like strings of Christmas lights. Others formed shapes, stars and snowflakes and cat paws, until finally the flickering patterns all merged together on the largest skyscraper and formed a Christmas tree shape.

“It’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, running forward and dragging Seven by the hand. “You did this?”

“You said you were sad because you didn’t have Christmas decorations this year,” he smiled, “Hacker God Seven Zero Seven had to fix that!”

Meijeong laughed, giddy at the display. Even the star atop the window-light Christmas tree shimmered as the lights in those rooms flickered.

“I feel kind of bad for anyone working in there though,” she said.

“They all went home early,” Seven said, grinning mischievously, “That’s one of C&R’s buildings. All the employees received an email earlier from Director Jumin Han instructing them that they were to go home and enjoy the holiday, no exceptions. Assistant Kang was particularly pleased to learn that she would have tomorrow off as well. Or today, rather. It’s after midnight.”

“You didn’t!” Meijeong laughed.

Seven winked, happy that his gift to her (and a bit of vengeance for himself) had gone over so well. After a little more laughter, they both grew quiet, admiring the display.

Shivering a bit, Meijeong stepped back closer to Seven. He probably should have told her to put on a jacket, but then again... He draped his jacket over her shoulders, and pulled her backwards, wrapping his arms around her from behind. The snow fell slowly, just stray flakes here and there, and Seven watched as they landed in Meijeong’s hair, lasting just a moment before melting away to nothing. In the cold air, their breath was visible, nearly identically timed puffs of clouds in the night breeze. Meijeong began to sing something, quietly, under her breath- the melody of some Christmas song or another, and it sent vibrations through his chest.

“Thank you… for being here. For being so warm,” he said.

Meijeong laughed, surprising him. “I’m pretty sure you’re the one keeping me warm right now,” she said, pulling the jacket tight.

“Yeah, well…” Seven paused, looking out over the city lights, “Warmth isn’t meant for me, and I don’t have a lot, but I wanted to send it over to you. 

“Well, thank you,” Meijeong replied. “We should go back inside though. It’s warm enough there for both of us. And there’s hot chocolate and cookies. We can see the lights from the window of the apartment, right?”

“Yep!” Seven said cheerfully. “Or at least until some realizes what I’ve done.”

Both laughing, the embrace ended, and Meijeong dragged him back to the apartment. He didn’t mind so much. Inside was the promise of cookies, more warmth, and more of her smile. 

 

“This is my grandmother’s recipe for cookies,” Meijeong said. She shuffled over, wrapped in a blanket and carrying a plate full of cookies, “I fully admit they are not as good as when she makes them, but I beat her apple pie, so it’s evens out.”

Back in the apartment, she had forced Seven to sit down on the floor in front of the couch with a mug of hot chocolate and threw a blanket around him. She plopped down beside him, setting the cookies in front of them. The cookies were incredible and Seven had a hard time believing that anyone made them better. The hot chocolate was good as well, and for a moment, Seven was entirely distracted by the taste of food that wasn’t Honey Buddha Chips or Dr. Pepper. He took off the tie and vest, and the two of them piled together in a nest of blankets and Christmas cheer.

Time passed like a dream for him. Meijeong told him stories from her own Christmases past, stopping occasionally to sing along to a carol that played from the computer. She preferred the Christian ones, and so he was familiar with many of them from Church, but a few were new. Eventually, the cookies and cocoa ran out, and they sat in silence. Meijeong rested her head on his shoulder now, and he was too wrapped up in the miracle of it all to listen to his better judgment on how close he was allowing their physical contact to become. Watching the snow out the window (the lights in the buildings had been corrected quicker than they would have liked), Seven didn’t notice right away when Meijeong muttered something sleepily.

“-Story…” she murmured. Her voice was muffled from being tucked against him.

Seven shifted his weight, so he could lean over and brush her hair behind her ear. “What was that?” he said.

“A Christmas Story,” said Meijeong, “This is… just like… the end of that movie… I love that part…”

“Yeah?” he said, smiling softly. Seven made a mental note to watch that movie as soon as possible.

“Mhmmm…” Meijeong murmured, turning her face, into his shoulder and wiggling her body closer to him. “Sorry… I’m so slee…py…” A soft sigh passed through her lips.

Seven remembered what she had told him earlier, about her Christmas wish. He wondered if she felt that same safety and warmth now. Watching her look so peaceful, an absurd, foolish, stupid idea popped into his head, and the magic of this Christmas wish come true was so powerful that he actually entertained it for a moment before shoving the thought away. He had already been selfish enough for one night. 

“Thank you for being with me… My first ever Christmas… is with you… “ Seven whispered as her breathing became the slow, regular pattern of sleep, “That makes me so happy…”

Chapter Text

After work, Meijeong made her way back to the same little bar that she and Zen and gone to after his show. The bar was a little more crowded than the last time they were there. Perhaps people were anxious to get a break after dealing with relatives or other stressful holiday situations. The atmosphere was still pleasant and warm though. Strings of Christmas lights were tucked throughout the ceiling, giving off a subtle glow overhead as Meijeong and Zen sat in the same table in the corner, waiting for Yoosung and Jaehee to arrive. Despite the fact that the “mysterious” email instructing her to take the day off had been discovered to be a fake, Jumin and V were apparently meeting up for drinks of their own and Jumin had decided to allow Jaehee to do the same.

“That arrogant jerk,” Zen grumped, taking a sip of his beer, “But still, I can’t help but feel good today.”

“Oh yeah?” Meijeong said, “Did something good happen?”

“Yeah, something did,” said Zen.

“Hooray! I’m glad something good happened for you,” Meijeong laughed, pouring herself some of the wine she had ordered today, knowing that both she and Jaehee would enjoy it. “It’s like you actually get at least something for Christmas.”

He smiled, practically glowing with excitement. “Actually, I wanted to tell you first, so I’m glad you’re here early.

“You don’t want to wait for everyone else?”

“Not really, they’ll find out soon enough…” Zen shrugged and continued, grinning, “I just met with the director before I came. I got a new role and it’s amazing!”

Brows furrowed, Meijeong frowned, “Wait, what about all the rehearsals yesterday? And didn’t you just get some other new role?” She tried to remember how Zen had explained it, but she was still confused.

“The show that we were rehearsing for yesterday ending up being completely canceled. There’s some kind of power struggle going on with that theater company that we didn’t know about,” Zen sighed, “It’s a shame I had to miss the fundraiser for nothing, but I can’t even be upset about that now, because this is such great news.”

“Okay, okay,” laughed Meijeong, rolling her eyes at Zen, who was so excited he was practically bouncing, like a little kid waiting to open presents on Christmas, only for him it was a day late. “Hurry up and tell me!”

“So, I gave the other role up to someone else so I could do this one. This is a much bigger production. And… for this one…” Zen paused dramatically, “I’ll be acting with a famous celebrity that acts on TV!”

“Wow! Seriously?” said Meijeong, “Zen, that’s amazing! Congratulations! I’m happy for you.” Grinning, she raised her glass, clinking it off his beer in a toast.

Zen laughed and they both took a sip. “Thanks. Hearing you say that makes me even more excited. The director says that if I do well on this one, I might start acting on TV now.”

“Who is it you’ll be acting with?” Meijeong asked, “Anyone I would know?”

“I didn’t know her, but she’s apparently a really popular singer these days…” Zen paused, thinking, “Echo Girl…? Or something like that. Do you know her?”

Meijeong bit her lip, thinking. The name sounded really familiar, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint why. It was bothering her that she couldn’t remember, so much so that she didn’t even notice that Yoosung rushing over and jumping into a seat until he exploded from excitement.

“Oh my god!” Yoosung exclaimed, “Zen, did I hear that right? Echo Girl!?”

“Yoosung, you know Echo Girl?” Zen said, picking up his beer carefully so that Yoosung didn’t accidentally knock it over in his excitement.

“Is that… even a question!?” Yoosung said, his scarf flipping down into his face, “Echo Girl!! Oh my god! Congrats Zen!!”

“Who is she…?” Meijeong said, playfully knocking the scarf back, “I know I know this… it’s driving me crazy right now.”

“Just the biggest name pop singer in the country right now,” said Yoosung, settling himself down and sitting properly now, “Any song she releases hits number one on the charts! She has so many guy fans that all her photo books sell out in five minutes.”

“Is she good at acting?” Meijeong said.

“Uhm…” said Yoosung, “She does star in some TV shows these days. But to be honest, I’m not sure about her acting.”

“Hmmm… well…” began Zen, but was immediately distracted, “Hey, Jaehee! Over here!” He waved.

“Hello, Zen, Meijeong,” said Jaehee, “Yoosung. I’m very glad I was able to make it today after all.” Jaehee folded her jacket neatly over the back of the chair and sat down next to Meijeong, nodding at the group.

“Hey Jaehee,” said Meijeong, pouring Jaehee a glass of wine and setting it down in front of her with a smile, “And as a belated Christmas gift to you, Zen has a major new lead role!”

“Oh?” This is wonderful news,” Jaehee smiled, definitely looking more cheerful though still a bit tired from the long week, “Congratulations. Once this is released, the fans will shout with joy again.”

“Thanks Jaehee,” Zen said, grinning sheepishly and scratching his head, “I’m so happy today I read the script and it’s pretty good too. Getting to act with a TV star… I guess I’m being recognized for all of my hard work?”

“TV star?” Jaehee frowned as she sipped the wine.

“Right!! I’m going to have to get Zen’s autograph soon!” Yoosung said, “Jaehee, Zen’s going to be acting with Echo Girl!” Yoosung fussed with the can of beer, causing it to spray a tiny bit when it popped open. 

“Echo Girl? Isn’t that the young woman who was fawning over you a bit excessively after the show while Meijeong and I were there?” asked Jaehee, and Meijeong clapped her hands and yelled out.

“That’s it!” she said, “It was driving me crazy that I couldn’t think of why I knew her. That bubbly girl who was going on about how big of a fan she was of yours, Zen.”

“Really?” Zen blushed, “Oh, yeah, I remember that now. That was a bit much, wasn’t it? It’s kind of a funny coincidence that now we’ll be working together.”

“Yes…” Jaehee said, and Meijeong could tell by her tone that coincidence wasn’t quite the word Jaehee would use.

“It’s so crazy, right?” Yoosung said, turning to Meijeong, “Back when I was in high school, Zen worked two jobs while doing theater… And now he’s acting with Echo Girl!! If he gets on TV after this… I might not even be able to see him!”

Zen laughed, but Meijeong could tell he was pleased by the praise.

“Although… Personally…” Jaehee began, “I can’t help but worry… whether it’s worth abandoning the role you were going to play to go up on stage with a celebrity.”

“Huh…?” said Zen. His face pinched, confused by her comment, “It’s way better for my popularity to go up on stage with someone famous.”

“Yes, but, well...” Jaehee frowned, “I think that a true actress should go up on stage, rather than a singer.”

“Does it really matter…?” Meijeong asked hesitantly, “I mean, yeah, her main job is singing, but it shouldn’t matter who Zen acts with as long as they are talented at acting too.”

“She does pretty well on TV,” Yoosung said, “But I heard that musicals are more difficult than TV…”

“It all depends on how you think,” Zen said, “But I think anyone can go up on stage as long as they are talented.”

“There are many cases where talented actors can’t go up on stage because of the celebrities,” Jaehee said, “You can easily tell that the production companies want to sell more tickets with their fame.”

“But isn’t this also a case where a less well-known actor is going to get more exposure because of proximity to a celebrity?” Meijeong said, “It’s kind of a like a bad Catch-22, right?”

“I suppose, but…”

“Being an actor isn’t an easy way to make a living for sure,” Zen said, “It’s hard to get recognized too. Because of people like you and Jaehee who understand us, we can forget the hunger and hardships and do our work.”

“I am only a viewer, so I do not know very well…“ said Jaehee, “But of course I support you in all your efforts Zen.”

“To Zen,” said Meijeong, lifting her glass. “And actors everywhere.”

“To Zen,” they said, all drinking.

“Actually,” said Zen, “What I’m more worried about is that rehearsal is so tight. She’s so famous that her schedule is really limiting things. We only have three rehearsals together as a cast, so everyone has to be really on the ball.”

“Just three?” said Meijeong.

“Yeah… I really don’t have much time, do I? Oh well, what can I do. I’ll just have to make sure I have everything right. I’ll start practicing from today!”

Zen went up to the bar to get the next round of drinks.

“I knew Zen was getting popular but never knew he was this good…” Yoosung sighed, “I hope he gets me an autograph from Echo Girl, haha. I think I might need his autograph soon too, before he’s too famous to talk to me anymore.” Yoosung laughed, but that was a hint of something a little sad hidden under the brightness. 

“I feel like Zen won’t change,” said Meijeong.

“Yeah… I think so too,” said Yoosung, “He’s not the type to change over night. Anyways, I hope everything works out for him.”

“Me too…” sighed Jaehee.

Zen returned with drinks, one of which had apparently been paid for by someone at the bar just because Zen was so good looking that he brightened the other patron’s night by existing. Yoosung insisted on taking the free one, since Zen was going to be a big star soon anyway.

The conversation grew casual for a long while, silly talk of the day and holidays and the party. Zen got himself and Yoosung another round of beer. Meijeong opened another bottle of wine for her and Jaehee after a while, and laughed when she saw Zen giving her a look.

“Hey, we’re adults and it’s been a long week,” she said, sticking out her tongue before taking another sip. “Besides, you and Yoosung can protect our honor just fine.”

“Well, I can,” said Zen, shooting a look at Yoosung, already a bit red-faced.

“Hey!” Yoosung said, “I can protect them too.”

“There’s no reason that we should need protecting,” said Jaehee, smiling wryly as she sipped her wine, “But the thought of Zen stepping in to defend someone is exciting.” Her face, though not red, was certainly a bit more relaxed than Meijeong had ever seen it outside of one of Zen’s shows.

“It’s Christmas, almost,” Meijeong laughed, “That might be too exciting.”

“It could be romantic though,” sighed Yoosung, “I can’t believe I had to spend another Christmas single.”

Meijeong groaned, dreading the return to this topic again, and tossed a wadded up napkin at Yoosung’s face. “We’re not going to go through this with every major holiday, are we?”

“Same… Next is Valentine’s Day, New Year’s is kind of rough too…” said Zen. “But at least we weren’t complete shut-ins like Seven.”

“Seven appears to be comfortable as shut-in every day of the year,” Jaehee said, “But clearly he has his own special circumstances related to the holiday.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong bit her lip, tracing the lip of the wine glass. “I worry about him.” Her mind wandered back to the night before.

Meijeong had fallen asleep, drifting off while leaning against Seven and listening to carols. In the morning, she woke up on the couch, covered in a blanket and alone. The morning air was a pleasant sort of chilled, and she didn’t want to get up, just lay there and remember the dream-that wasn’t-a-dream that was Seven’s visit.

“I doubt that it’s anything he can’t handle,” said Jaehee, snapping Meijeong back to the present.

“Seven worries about you a lot too,” said Yoosung, “More than the rest of us, even.”

“What?” Meijeong felt her face flush red. “That’s…”

“I actually thought he might come,” said Zen, “Leave the house on Christmas for the first time ever. Just so he could see you.”

“Yeah, well, actually, that-“ Meijeong began, unsure of whether or not she was supposed to say anything. Her head felt sort of funny, and she took a sip of wine to buy a second to organize her thoughts, “Seven, he-“

“He snuck out of work to see you, didn’t he!” said Yoosung, grinning drunkenly, “I knew it!”

“Really!?” Zen said, “Seven really did that?”

“Oh- that’s- I-“ Meijeong stammered, feeling very hot for reasons that had nothing to do with alcohol consumption, “Th- ah, I-“

“When did you see him though?” said Zen, suddenly worried, “It was really late when you guys left the fundraiser, right? So today… this morning…? Surely not…?”

“Nothing happened!” Meijeong protested.

“Then why is your face so red!” teased Yoosung, his voice slurring just a bit from the beer.

“Because of the wine! I haven’t had this much to drink in a while,” Meijeong said, “I just gave him the Christmas cookies I made and we hung out for a little bit,”

“Jealous…” sighed Yoosung, “That sounds so romantic.”

“Too romantic!” Zen said, his voice rising in a panic, “Alone with a guy in your house in the middle of the night… on Christmas… even if that guy is a weirdo like Seven…”

Her face burning, Meijeong looked back and forth from Zen, who was starting to look a little red-faced himself, to Yoosung grinning beatifically at her like a doting mother, to Jaehee, who had taken to contemplating her wine glass with a blank, peaceful expression on her face and didn’t seem to much mind what they were saying at all.

“It wasn’t… that-“ Meijeong finally paused took a deep breath. Brushing her hair back behind her ear, she said more firmly, “Seven and I are just friends. If you guys were allowed to know where the apartment was, I’d have invited you all over too.”

It didn’t feel like the truth, but it didn’t feel like a lie either. Seven was… Seven was different, but… She bit her lip, trying to figure out how to explain it to the others. Seven was a guy she made cat noises with on the phone. They told each other stupid jokes. Seven was the one who’s name she was always most excited to see in the chatroom. He was the one she turned to when she felt hopeless…

“Seven got cookies last night, Zen got cookies today…” Yoosung’s voice was slow, too loud, and it interrupted her thoughts. He leaned on Zen’s shoulder, “I want cookies too!”

He reached for Zen’s plate, but Zen, considerably less intoxicated, had too fast of reflexes for him.

“Uh-uh,” Zen said, “You already got yours. These are mine.”

“Meanie!” said Yoosung, reaching over Zen and grabbing out at the air about a foot below the cookies’ actual location, “Share!”

In his struggle to reach the cookies, Yoosung slipped off the chair and landed onto Zen’s lap. Meijeong and Jaehee both burst out laughing.

“Aw, come on, man,” said Zen, “Not cool.”

“I think it might be time to take Yoosung home,” said Meijeong, smiling softly. 

In the end, it was decided Yoosung would go home with Zen for the night, given that no one trusted him to make it back himself. Yoosung was barely holding himself upright, instead draped across Zen like a jacket, blearily singing Christmas carols. Jaehee, though sleepy, was sober enough to handle herself, and despite Meijeong’s insistence that it was the alcohol causing her embarrassment about Seven, she really was only a bit buzzed. She waved goodbye as she got into the cab; choking with laughter as Yoosung tried to wrap Zen’s ponytail around his own neck like it was his scarf.

Meijeong thought about calling Seven on the ride home, but something stopped her. It was late. He already missed work because of her, and… she just made sure to wave when she got home.

The next morning, Meijeong didn’t message or call Seven either. She managed to spill dirty water all over the counter while watering her plants, burn her toast, and stub her toe while trying not to think about calling Seven… The conversation with the others last night bothered her. 

“Which is stupid,” Meijeong muttered to herself in the elevator as she fidgeted with her phone on the way to work, “Because there’s nothing wrong with it either way. I mean obviously there’s no way anything- that would-“

Meijeong’s conversation with herself was interrupted when more people got on the elevator, and she remained blissfully distracted for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t until she got home after work that Meijeong finally checked the chatroom.”707” glowed bright on the screen, making her stomach jump. Thankfully, Jumin was there too, and they were discussing Zen’s sudden windfall, so Meijeong could focus on things other than the funny feelings in her chest.

 

707: Ooohh. I want an autograph too.

707: This is really good news!!

MC: You’re a fan of Echo Girl? lolol

Jumin Han: Hmm…

707: I should get Echo Girl and Zen’s autograph’s and sell them to a friend for a high price.

Jumin Han: I see everyone has gotten all excited.

MC: It’s nice to see such a big development in Zen’s career happening.

707: Ya

707: Echo Girl is really famous

707: You see her on TV a lot

707: Tom will love to get her autograph

707: So I can get him to trade me chocolate for it.

Jumin Han: Can’t you pay for sweets yourself?

707: Free stuff is always good.

Jumin Han: … I see

MC: lolololol

MC: I feel like you might be able to get more than just chocolate for autographs

MC: at least make sure it’s a fancy kind. Like those kinder eggs with the toys inside

MC: Those are so tasty :3

707: ooohhh good idea.

707: I don’t know if Tom can get me those though…

Jumin Han: Why would you put toys inside of food?

Jumin Han: Isn’t that a choking hazard?

707: lololololol

707: Nah

MC: It’s like… a chocolate shell around a plastic egg that has a toy inside it.

MC: Unless you leave a really little kid unsupervised, it’s fine

Jumin Han: Ah, I see…

Jumin Han: But so…

Jumin Han: you have a friend?

Jumin Han: Guess you do meet people.

707: My neighborhood friend, Tom

707: is a huge fan of Echo Girl

707:

707: Wait a sec.

707: How antisocial did you think I was?

MC: lololol

MC: I mean, we’re your friends

MC: But you do tend to stay inside your house…

Jumin Han: Echo Girl,

Jumin Han: I know her as well.

707: omg. Don’t change the subject

Jumin Han: She’s a good person

Jumin Han: but she’s just as emotional many of the other women who…

Jumin Han: hmmm…

707: ???

MC: ??

Jumin Han: It would be rude to be talk about her private matters.

MC: Oh wait.

MC: I think Jaehee mentioned something about her doing work modeling work with C&R at one point, right?

Jumin Han: Yes, that is correct.

707: If you know her,

707: please get her autograph for me, Mr. Corporate Executive.

Jumin Han: As if I would.

707: ;; >_< ;;

MC: You’d probably have better luck with asking Zen lol

707: Wait

707: Don’t tell me…

707: you two had something going on?

MC:

Jumin Han: Celebrities tend to go where money is at.

707: She totally hit on you!!

Jumin Han: Yes…

Jumin Han: and…

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: My father.

707:

MC:

707:

707: I will ask no more!

MC: Anyway…

MC: Since both of you are here, and you’re the ones most likely to know-

MC: I know the Christmas Party just ended

MC: but I’m starting to go through the process of preparing thank you letters for donators

MC: and I was wondering if either of you had heard anything from V about potential dates for the official RFA party

Jumin Han: I have not heard

707: Ya

707: Me neither

707: V said he’s going to be traveling again

Jumin Han: I assume after the New Year, we’ll have more definite answers

MC: That would make sense

MC: I was just curious

Jumin Han: I was hoping he would stay around for a bit longer…

Jumin Han: It was nice, to be able to drink wine with him again

Jumin Han: And there are still things that…

707: Awwww

707: you miss V when he’s gone

Jumin Han: naturally

707: <3 I miss Elly <3 <3

Jumin Han: Elizabeth the 3rd

Jumin Han: Don’t go near her.

707: Why lololol

Jumin Han: Don’t.

707: I want to see her ~

Jumin Han: No.

707: I can go to your penthouse lololol

Jumin Han: The security guard will stop you.

707: It’s fine.

707: ^u^ ~

707: My job is to break through security lol

Jumin Han: I’m talking about physical security.

707: Waaaa

707: I hate physical security measures T_T

Jumin Han: So don’t come.

707: But I want tooooo

707: Maybe if I say hello nicely, they’ll let me in?

MC: I don’t think that’ll work meow~

707: T_T

Jumin Han: Does the world seem that easy to you?

MC: Maybe if you dress up as Jaehee, they’ll let you in meow~?

707: Omg

707: Good idea.

Jumin Han: You are very creative, Meijeong

Jumin Han: You’ve made me imagine something I’ve never dared to think about.

707: I don’t know if that’s a compliment

707: but good idea.

Jumin Han: If you think that will work, you are mistaken

707: Hmph T_T

MC: I think it’s worth a shot meow

MC: And you should take lots of pictures in costume meow~

MC: To share with us meow~

707: I feel like I might be being used for a joke meow~

MC: ^^

Jumin Han: I should get going meow.

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: I should get going now.

707: lololololol

MC: ^_^

Jumin Han: I have to go to a meeting, so excuse me.

707: Me too!

707: It was fun talking to you, meow~

MC: Bye bye for meow~

 

 

“I’m an idiot,” Meijeong sighed.

Curled up on the couch, legs folded underneath her, she stared at the screen, finally putting the vaguest of words to the dull sort of ache that sat in her chest as she stared at the now dark, blank screen of her phone. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and leaned back against the cushions. With a groan, Meijeong sat up and went through the same old evening routine. Things had changed so much since she had come to stay at Rika’s apartment. She had grown so comfortable here, and so comfortable with the members of the RFA, and Seven had been such a big part of that, from the very beginning.

After her shower, Meijeong found herself staring at her phone. Her fingers hovered over the screen, but before she could do anything, the screen lit up. 

Ring! Ring!!

“Seven!” Meijeong laughed cheerfully, pulling her knees to her chest. “I was just about to call you meow~”

“Why? Are you okay?” said Seven, sounding panicked, “Is everything alright? The hacker didn’t show up again, did he?" 

“What? No, everything’s fine,” Meijeong frowned, sitting up, “Seven, are you okay?” She bit her lip, suddenly very worried.

“Ahahahaha,” he laughed hollowly. “Nope. I had to call you because… the agency has me doing some work and… I’m going to have to disappear for a few days. I wanted to make sure everything was okay with you before then.”

“I’m fine, Seven, really,” Meijeong said. She stood up, absentmindedly wandering across the room. “You don’t need to worry about me. Just take care of your work, okay?” 

“Right, of course,” said Seven cheerfully, “Defender of Justice Seven Zero Seven always gets the job done.” The jokes were the same, but something in his voice rang false, like a recording, and it only worried Meijeong more. 

“God Seven! Your believer prays for your safe and swift return!” Meijeong teased, trying to cheer him up, “I’ll present an offering of more cookies if my wish is granted.” She hoped to hear him laugh, or join in on the joke, but there was a long pause that only worried her more.

Seven sighed, and spoke again, quietly. “God… I wanted to hear your voice one last time because it wouldn’t stop playing in my head, but I don’t think it’s helping…” he whispered, and the sound shook something deep inside Meijeong. “Could you… could you do me a favor?”

“Of course.” 

“Promise me you’ll be safe.”

“Only if you promise me you’ll be safe,” Meijeong replied immediately, “You’re kind of freaking me out right now, Seven.”

“I- I’ll do what I can. But-”

“Seven?” Meijeong began, “What is going-“

“Shit- she’s back. I have to go. Be safe,” Seven hung up in a hurry. It definitely sounded as if he didn’t want anyone to hear their conversation.

Cut off before she could get any more answers, Meijeong stared at her phone as it switched from “Call Ended” to the locked screen to black again. Not knowing was frustrating, and only let her imagination run wild. Meijeong imagined any number of ridiculous scenarios that a secret agent might be summoned off to do in the dead of night. She logged into the RFA chatroom, hoping to find more answers there, but Seven hadn’t left so much as a “talk to you later” in the chat logs. She could try talking to Jumin or even see if she could get a hold of V in the morning, but until then, there’s wasn’t much Meijeong could do.

“Damn it Seven,” Meijeong muttered to herself as she tossed and turned in bed that night. Over and over, she checked her phone, too afraid to miss something, until eventually, she managed to find some fitful rest.

Chapter Text

“Everyone keeps saying that this just happens with him sometimes, but it’s been three days,” said Meijeong, frowning as she folded her laundry. “And you didn’t hear how weird he sounded when he called me, Yoosung. Like a completely different person.”

“Seven is like that sometimes,” said Yoosung. His voice was a bit muffled, since the phone was on speaker and on the bed. “It has something to do with his work. He has to be really secretive about some of the stuff he does, apparently.”

“Yeah, but…” Meijeong bit her lip, unsatisfied with the answer. “If it’s so normal, then why did he have to act so freaked out. Like he was afraid of something happening,”

“I dunno,” said Yoosung.

“I hate not knowing. I hate waiting and not being able to do anything,” Meijeong threw a balled up sock across the room, bouncing it harmlessly off the wall. “Idiot. Why’d he have to worry me like that?”

“Sorry,” Yoosung replied, and Meijeong could perfectly picture his puppy-dog-face feeling bad for her, “I wish there was something I could do to help, but I’m useless.”

“You’re not useless, Yoosung,” Meijeong said, “Just listening to me is helping a lot.”

Meijeong had noticed that Yoosung’s self-esteem had really been going down since suffering more and more lately. It had gotten better during the party, but now, with Zen’s success and the New Year approaching it felt like Yoosung was retreating more and more into LOLOL again and feeling less and less sure of himself. It bothered her that she didn’t know how to help him, but right now, she had her own problems.

No matter what the rest of the RFA said, she couldn’t stop worrying about Seven. He was in a panic about something, when he had called her that night, and not knowing what that was and being completely unable to reach him was driving her crazy. She was constantly fighting the urge to call him and had left 2 voicemails in addition to another written message in front of the security camera. It did occur to Meijeong that maybe, just maybe, she was over-thinking things because of her own possible… feelings, but she kept pushing that thought down.

“I’ll worry about that once he’s back and I know he’s okay,” she muttered to herself as she put together a book order at work.

“La~La~Love~ your love makes me wanna la la la~” sang Sun-mi. She handed Meijeong another slip of paper with another customer request on it. “Someone just called in about this book too.”

“Got it,” said Meijeong, and Sun-mi skipped back to the register, humming the music as she went.

The song was apparently one of Echo Girl’s. Celebrity E! News had somehow gotten a scoop about Zen’s upcoming performance with Echo Girl, and now social media was buzzing with rumors about the show and how it had come to be. The first thing Sun-mi had done when she arrived at work was interrogate Meijeong about the truth of it, and once Meijeong had assured her that the rumors about them performing together were true (though not the millions of other rumors about the two being secretly engaged, or long lost siblings, or any number of other ridiculous things), the teenage girl had been walking on a cloud. If the store was slow, even for the briefest moment, she immediately jumped back into talking about it.

“So what’s the show about?”

“Not sure, Zen’s legally not allowed to say and the script is being kept very secret.”

“But you’ll definitely get me tickets, right? And introduce me to Zen and Echo Girl?”

“I’ll try, I promise.

“And you’re sure he and Echo Girl aren’t dating?”

“Very sure. She’s not his type.”

“I mean, she’s gorgeous, and has huge boobs,” Sun-mi laughed, “And he’s a guy. I don’t know if ‘type’ makes a different at that point.”

“Ehhh…” Meijeong frowned, “I don’t know. Actors are around attractive people all the time though, so it’s probably different for them right?”

Sun-mi shrugged. “I don’t know. But every guy in my school will kill just to spend five minutes alone wither her.”

Meijeong rolled her eyes and smiled. “Let’s not treat high school boys as a universal standard.”

“Fair point,” Sun-mi sighed, “They’re all so immature. Maybe- Good afternoon, how can I help you today?” A large group of customers walked in, and both of them immediately flipped back into customer service mode.

The rest of the night was busy, and Sun-mi didn’t have a chance to pester Meijeong for any more details about Zen and Echo Girl before she left for the night. Normally, this would have been a welcomed thing, but instead, it left Meijeong with too much quiet, and too much time for her mind to wander. Her thoughts drifted back to Seven, and to worry, as she wandered through the stockroom gathering books and making notes.

“I’m never making him cookies again,” she muttered angrily and flipped open the lid of a cardboard box with her foot.

“What was that?” asked Mr. Park. He handed her a few more slips of paper with lists of customer’s names and the books they requested that needed put together for the upcoming week. Aslan followed behind him, meowing to be fed.

“Ah, nothing, Mr. Park,” said Meijeong. She flipped through the lists quickly. “We might need to place an order for this one, I don’t think we have as many copies of that book as they’re requesting.”

“Hmm… I’ll double check, thank you,” he replied and tottered over to his old computer to check the stock numbers. “You know, I was thinking about getting a new computer and actually connecting the store to the internet this year.”

Meijeong laughed, watching as Mr. Park sat down at the ancient machine, pecking at the keys with one finger at a time.

“You could even set up a website,” Meijeong said, “It’s not a bad idea, if you think you can make it work.”

“I’ll have you know I have a two year old computer upstairs with internet, email, the works, upstairs in my home,” said Mr. Park, “I just… it felt strange, using it with all these books. Don’t ask me why,” he said, scratching Aslan behind the ears, “I don’t know.”

“It would certainly make Sun-mi happy,” Meijeong smiled, “She’d love to be able to email places about rare books instead of calling.”

“Oh, she’ll still be calling,” Mr. Park winked and laughed, “Personal touches are how I stay in business, after all. But follow-ups with emails would be fine.”

Meijeong laughed along with him. Mr. Park just had one of those presences- you felt yourself relax just a bit when his old eyes sparkled mischievously with a joke. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said, “Have Subin help you set up a website when she’s home for New Years, seriously. It can only help.”

“I don’t want to take time from her holiday, but… well, maybe you’re right,” Mr. Park said. “We’ll see. Now go on home. I can finish the rest up for tonight.”

“Thanks, Mr. Park,” Meijeong said, “Goodnight.”

 

There were still no messages from Seven when Meijeong got home, not in her inbox or the chatroom. There was one from Yoosung though, who was worried about her and wanted to make sure she wasn’t still stressed out about Seven’s absence… It made her feel guilty.

“I must really be overreacting,” she said as she made her lunch for the next day, “I can’t keep worrying Yoosung like this. Whatever’s happening with Seven… well, I’ll find out when he gets back. In the meantime, Jaehee’s been working late hours and again and I promised Yoosung we’d hang out together soon.” It was a bit grounding, to be worried about someone other than Seven, and Meijeong ran with it, making an extra lunch for Jaehee again and sending Yoosung a message about going to see the new Star Wars movie together.

While she was eating dinner, Jumin had apparently been in the chatroom and proposed a commercial offer for Zen. Meijeong sighed. Apparently, Jumin was starting up a cat food brand, which meant both that Zen was going to take it badly, and Jaehee was going to have more work. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, offering Zen work, but, well… Jumin didn’t seem to have though it through.

Zen logged in as Meijeong was reading through the transcripts.

 

ZEN: Meijeong, you’re here ^^

MC: Zen, hey

MC: The cat food commercial… are you at all willing to do it?

ZEN: ^^

ZEN: No. Never.

MC: Yeah, I thought so ^^;;

ZEN: I feel like he’s just trying to mess with me.

MC: I don’t know. I think Jumin might actually be trying to help, in his own way.

MC: He just… doesn’t always think things through from other people’s perspectives;;

MC: Don’t take it too negatively

ZEN: You’re being very generous, Meijeong

Jaehee Kang has entered the chatroom.

ZEN: I’d like to think that but…

ZEN: Uggh…

Jaehee Kang: I doubt he is serious.

ZEN: …. Right?

Jaehee Kang: He cannot be serious;;;

MC: I don’t think Jumin jokes when it comes to cat projects;;

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

Jaehee Kang: You’re right;;

ZEN: He’s trying to fulfill his own fantasy using company money

Jaehee Kang: Yes

Jaehee Kang: And the deficits we see because of the project aren’t good, even if the company can handle it

Jaehee Kang: Do you remember the “find the world’s largest cat” event we had last year…?

ZEN: Oh…

MC: Oh! I actually remember seeing something about that on the news

MC: That was a C&R event?

ZEN: Yeah, Jumin’s company did hold that

ZEN: I remember Jaehee didn’t eat at all during it

Jaehee Kang: The event showed a tremendous deficit

Jaehee Kang: Every cat project is a loss

MC: :(

MC: geez…

ZEN: That guy just does it for his own personal pleasure

Jaehee Kang: Although

Jaehee Kang: If you are the model Zen…

Jaehee Kang: this might be the first cat project we actually see some profit

ZEN: UHM.

Jaehee Kang: You should consider it

Jaehee Kang: Becoming an official model for our company could greatly help your career, and lighten your financial burdens

MC: I mean

MC: If Zen’s going to have model with cats

MC: There’s no way his allergies will let that happen unless he’s able to find some kind of miracle drug, right?

MC: It’s not a lack of professionalism

ZEN: Yeah;;

ZEN: Thanks Meijeong

ZEN: That’s right

ZEN: I don’t really like Jumin

ZEN: but that’s not what the issue is here

ZEN: No matter how much I get paid, I can’t even carry a cat in my arms without sneezing and tearing up T_T

ZEN: Ugh, enough about cats

ZEN: let’s talk about my new role instead

 

Meijeong chatted with them both a bit, but she had an early shift the next morning and couldn’t stay much longer. Meijeong felt a little guilty for not indulging Zen’s excitement and bragging, but thankfully Jaehee was more than happy to do so for her. If she was being honest, Meijeong was kind of tired of talking about the show after being interrogated about it all day by Sun-mi. And while Jaehee was definitely still nervous about Zen performing with a celebrity, and the press getting leaked information hadn’t helped matters, Jaehee’s fangirl was starting to get the better of her as more information about the show and story itself was released. So Meijeong made sure to let Jaehee know she’s be dropping off a lunch for her the next day, and logged off to get ready for bed.

By the end of work the next day, Mr. Park had bought a new computer and gotten it set up in the stockroom. His new year gift to himself, he called it. Sun-mi wasn’t in that day, and both Meijeong and Mr. Park decided that it would be funnier to see how long it took her to notice then to mention anything outrightThe walk home was windy afterwards, but it wasn’t as cold as it could have been given the time of the year. Meijeong’s phone beeped and she rushed to dig it out of her purse without dropping her shopping bags. It wasn’t Seven. But it was Subin.

It was a selfie in front of an open suitcase. Underneath it, Subin had written “Two days!” Meijeong smiled, feeling a little bit choked up.

“SOON,” Meijeong replied, chuckling ominously to herself and enjoying the joke. She added another message, “I miss you so much nerd <3”

The phone beeped again. “Miss you too. I’m packing as we speak. SOON.” 

It was amazing, how much the little things could make her heart feel so much lighter.

 

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: oh hey

MC: Zen, Jumin, what’s up?

Jumin Han: Good evening

ZEN: Meijeong, hey!

ZEN: Feeling energized ^^

ZEN: I haven’t had such a good work out in a while~!

ZEN: ~* ^u^ *~

MC: How about rehearsing?

ZEN: I rehearsed before working out.

ZEN: I really, really like this script

MC: That’s great! I know you can’t really tell us about the story

MC: But I’m really excited knowing you like it this much ^^

ZEN: Me too ^^

ZEN: I have a lot of lines though, so this won’t be easy lol

 

ZEN: PHOTO OF BEER DRINKING

 

ZEN: long night of memorization ahead of me

ZEN: lolololol

Jumin Han: Drinking, smoking, and exercising

Jumin Han: all adds up to nothing

ZEN: Hey. Don’t jinx me!

MC: ^^;;

Jumin Han: We appreciate your selfie

Jumin Han: so answer my question.

ZEN: No;

Jumin Han: Why don’t you want to be the cat food model?

ZEN: Are you seriously asking me that!?

ZEN: I have a trauma with cats.

Jumin Han: Not knowing the appeal of cats is basically missing 50% of the joys life can offer.

ZEN: Yeah right.

MC: ;;

MC: Jumin, if you’re trying to be helpful

MC: Why don’t you suggest a commercial Zen could do well?

ZEN: That’s a good idea.

ZEN: Meijeong is always right!

Jumin Han: I am being helpful, but Zen chases away any good fortune I throw to him

Jumin Han: I don’t have any other jobs right now. Especially not for a guy who is not a professional.

Jumin Han: Forget that you don’t get along well with cats and consider it. This is business.

ZEN: It’s not that I don’t get along with them.

ZEN: You know how bad my allergy is!!

Jumin Han: What do you mean?

ZEN: You brought that fur ball to the party last time.

Jumin Han: Oh.

Jumin Han: You mean the time when everyone was admiring Elizabeth the 3rd’s beauty

Jumin Han: while you were stuck in the corner sneezing and spraying snot?

MC: oh, ouch

ZEN: don’t remind me

MC: No wonder you hate cats, lolol

MC: Your allergy is that bad?

ZEN: Exactly!

MC: Have you found any kind of allergy medicine that helped? That level of allergic reaction could be dangerous.

ZEN: Nah, I’ll be alright. Thought it would completely ruin my image though.

Jumin Han: Perhaps God was angry at your ill treatment towards cats and gave you that allergy

ZEN: what kind of logic is that!?

ZEN: And I avoid cats because I’m allergic. I’ve never mistreated them.

MC:

ZEN: It’s all because of that damn allergy.

Jumin Han: You’re very narrow-minded to avoid cats for such a petty reason

MC: That’s not even close to how it works.

MC: Jumin, don’t be such an ass

MC: People can die from allergic reactions. It’s a serious medical condition, not a lifestyle choice.

ZEN: O_O !!

Jumin Han:

MC: Maybe stop and think about the fact that just because people see things differently than you doesn’t mean they’re wrong

ZEN: whoa

ZEN: Meijeong

ZEN: Are you oka?

ZEN: Dammit you jerk, look at what you did now

ZEN: you really upset her

MC: shit;;

MC: Zen, I’ve got to go

MC: I’ll talk to you later

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Blood pounding in her head, Meijeong tossed her phone onto the couch and angrily kicked at the padded front cushions. She felt bad that Zen was probably really upset and confused now but… 

“Has he seriously learned nothing?” Meijeong said, “Stupid, arrogant… AARGHHH!”

She yelled, pacing the room. Her lungs were tight, and it felt like the walls were closing in around her. Clenching her fists, Meijeong paused in front of the open window. It was starting to get dark out and the sky was cloudy and cold, but none of that mattered. The ability to leave, right now, was all that mattered.

Meijeong grabbed her coat and shoes and flew out the door to the elevator, practically twitching the entire way down. Outside, the cold wind bit into her face as she set off at a solid fast pace down the sidewalks with no clear destination in mind. It stung, but it took her mind off the overwhelming pressure building in her head. 

Twenty minutes into her walk, Zen called, but she couldn’t bring herself to answer it and explain. Instead, she sent him a quick text message so he knew she was okay and that she’d talk to him later. Taking a deep breath, Meijeong slowed down her pace and started heading back to the apartment. Talking to Zen wasn’t going to help her right now- he’d get just as emotional if not more as she did where Jumin as involved, and besides, he didn’t know the whole story.

“Damn it, Seven,” Meijeong muttered, wiping her eyes. They had gotten all watery suddenly. “Just hurry up and let me know you’re okay already.”

Chapter Text

The skin on her face felt a little chapped from the wind when she got back to the apartment, but the fresh air really had helped Meijeong clear her head. Instead of angry and frustrated, she felt a twinge of guilt. Jumin was being a bit stubborn about the allergy thing, but she had snapped and taken out a lot of misplaced frustration on him. She hung up her coat and took out of her phone, checking the chatroom to see how bad the fallout had been between him and Zen in her wake. Unfortunately, it was just as she feared; her overreaction had led to a nasty fight between the two.

Meijeong bit her lip and sighed, debating what to do. She had promised Zen that she would call him, but… well, she felt like owed Jumin a bit of an apology. Things between them lately had been so awkward, and she didn’t want to add one more thing to the mix of problems. Crossing into the kitchen, she started boiling water for tea, and dialed Jumin’s number. She held her breath, anxious to see if he would pick up. The phone rang once, twice, and then-

“Good evening?” answered Jumin. He sounded understandably surprised to receive her call.

“Jumin, hello,” Meijeong said, feeling awkward, “I’m sorry to call you this late… I just, um…”

“It’s fine,” said Jumin, “I don’t normally sleep for a few more hours yet.”

“Right, of course,” Meijeong replied, “I… I just wanted to apologize. What I said in the chatroom, that was completely out of line, and I’m sorry.”

“Oh,” Jumin said. There was a long, awkward pause. “… Thank you. I wasn’t sure… if perhaps…”

“I mean…” said Meijeong, fumbling with the words, “I think you need to be a little more understanding about allergies as medical conditions, but Zen also needs to be a way less confrontational with you, and … you’re not an ass.” Meijeong swore she heard Jumin chuckle softly.

“I’m glad to hear you say that,” he replied. She could hear the smile in his voice, tinged with a hint of concern at the end. “Are you alright? Luciel’s absence seems to be upsetting you.”

“Mmmm… You’re not wrong,” Meijeong sighed, pouring boiling water into a mug with a tea bag. The smell of peppermint filled the air, relieving her tension a little bit more. “I’ll be alright though. Thank you, for asking.”

“I understand the frustration… V has the tendency to…” Jumin sighed, “Well, you’ve seen how he disappears as well. It is frustrating.”

“And I took out that frustration on you today, and caused a nastier than usual fight between you and Zen,” Meijeong said, chuckling with self-deprecation, “I really am sorry, Jumin.” She carried the tea with her to the couch. Settling onto the cushions, she pulled her legs up underneath herself and curled up comfortably.

“Apology accepted. Thank you. Though, Zen seems determined to go against me no matter what the situation,” said Jumin, “That’s not something you should blame yourself for.”

“I don’t think it’s something he decides to do, per say,” Meijeong sipped her tea and sighed, “You’re both just total opposites. Cats and dogs.” The analogy reminded her of Seven, and there was a tiny, pinching ache in her heart again. Oh…

“You might be right,” Jumin replied, “Though, the result is always the same regardless.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong paused thoughtfully, “Maybe I’ll try talking to him about it. I promised I call him and let him know I was okay too, and I haven’t done it yet. I wanted to apologize to you first.”

“Oh… alright,” said Jumin, sounding a bit surprised, though not unpleasantly so, “I suppose you should do that too.”

“Have a good night, Jumin,” Meijeong said, feeling much more cheerful than before.

“Good night.”

Meijeong immediately dialed Zen, but the phone went to voicemail. Judging by the end of the chatroom messages from his argument with Jumin, he was probably working out to burn off his anger still. Meijeong sighed and leaned back into the couch. Maybe when she was done with her shower she’d be able to check in with him. In the meantime, she savored the soothing warmth of the peppermint tea and just… breathed.

45 minutes and a hot shower were enough to relax Meijeong completely, and she was hoping that Zen had managed to find a similar sort of… well, zen. She checked the chatroom first; just to make sure she was up to date on any issues that might have come up. Nothing more from Zen or Jumin, but- her heart skipped a beat.

 

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: SEVEN

MC: GOD SEVEN HAS RETURNED

707: YES

707: I have

707: RETURNED!!!!

MC: Hero 707 has returned! Open up the gates!!

707: Meijeong is here! Light the signal fires!!

707: lolololol

MC: lol

MC: oh my god

MC: thank god

707: yes

707: thank god

707: god 7

MC: oh my god

MC: Seven

MC: what the hell happened…?

MC: I was so worried about you

MC: are you okay?

707: I’m fine ~* ^_^ *~

707: Just had a mission from the agency

707: a very secret mission

707: so I had to disappear

707: but of course the mighty 707

707: Defender of Justice

707: completed the mission lickety split

707: and came back safe and sound!

MC: …that’s it??

MC: you scared the hell out of me!!

MC: idiot

707: T_T

707: sorry;;

MC: what was up with that phone call????

MC: I thought you were in serious trouble

MC: I was so worried about you!!!

707: T_T

707: ;;;;

707: I’m sorry

707: I got carried away

707: and did things I shouldn’t have

707: I think its best if

707: you just think of it like a bad joke

MC: ????

MC: SERIOUSLY??

MC: Seven!?

MC: What the fuck does that even mean?

MC: god I just…

MC: ugh

MC: you’re such an idiot

707: really

707: I am more sorry than I can express T_T

707: I didn’t mean to upset you ;;

707: I forgot

707: what my place is in all this

Yoosung* has entered the chatroom.

707: and I said and did things I shouldn’t have

707: but I remembered, these past few days

707: That there are jokes that are too hard on people

707: and shouldn’t be made

Yoosung*: Seven!!

Yoosung*: You’re back!

707: ~ *u* ~

707: Hello LOLOL warrior Yoosung

MC:

Yoosung*: Oh good, Meijeong’s here too

Yoosung*: I’m glad

Yoosung*: She was really, really worried about you Seven

Yoosung*: You should apologize properly

707: T_T

707: I’m really, really sorry Meijeong

MC: Are you sure you’re okay?

MC: I just…

MC: If you’re really okay, and everything is safe and alright with you

MC: then I’m okay too

707: ^^

707: God Seven promises his devoted believer that he is a-okay!

707: And that he is safe and sound!

Yoosung*: be serious!!

Yoosung*: Meijeong was really upset!

MC: It’s okay Yoosung ^^

MC: If it’s an official decree from God Seven

MC: then this devotee will accept His word as the Truth

MC: ^_^

707: Huzzah!

MC: Huzzah!

Yoosung*: You two…

Yoosung*: really make quite the pair

Yoosung*: ~*^_^*~

707: lolololol

MC: ugghhh

MC: I’m just so relieved

MC: Don’t do anything like that to me again, idiot

707: ^^;;

707: I won’t

Yoosung*: yay! ^^

MC: good

MC: or I’ll never make you cookies again

707: GASP

707: XnX !!

Yoosung*: ^3^

Yoosung*: We should bake together sometime

MC: oohhh!! That would be so much fun!

MC: I used to do that with my friend Subin all the time before she moved to the US

MC: Oh!!

707: Cookies cookies cookies!!

MC: that reminds me

MC: She’s actually coming to visit in a couple days, will be here for a while

MC: I know the answer is probably no

MC: But she’s going to be really suspicious if I tell her that she’s not allowed to visit me at home…

Yoosung*: Oh yeah…

Yoosung*: that would be weird

707: hmmm…

MC: I mean, I know you’ll probably have to talk to V

MC: But is there anyway we can stretch the rules a bit

MC: So I can let her come there without raising all kinds of awkward questions

MC: Since she doesn’t actually know about the RFA

MC: I haven’t told her anything

MC: Then she wouldn’t know there was anything secret about the place?

707: I dunno

707:  ¯\_( )_/¯ 

707: That’s hard

707: I’ll have to ask V

MC: I figured

MC: I just don’t want her to freak out

Yoosung*: It does seem kind of weird from the outside

Yoosung*: So that’s understandable to me

MC: Hopefully V will understand too…

Yoosung*: if he even gets back to Seven at all…

Yoosung*: he might not

707: well…

707: You said she’ll be here in two days?

MC: yeah

707: I’ll do my best to get a hold of him before then

707: or figure out something else

Yoosung*: Yeah!

Yoosung*: A friend of Meijeong’s should be trustworthy

707: I’m sure

707: But we have to be careful

MC: Subin Park

MC: We went to school together

MC: Shouldn’t be too hard for you to pull up all the information you need on her from that ;)

Yoosung*: lolol Meijeong

707: +_~

707: I’ll go get started on that

707: And get in touch with V ASAP

707: Away I go!

MC: Bye Seven

Yoosung*: Bye!

707: Adios!

707 has left the chatroom.

Yoosung*: Are you really okay…?

MC: you know…

MC: I think I am?

MC: I thought I would be angrier than I am

MC: But I’m just relieved

Yoosung*: ^^

Yoosung*: me too

MC: thanks for worrying about me, Yoosung

MC: it made me feel better

Yoosung*: I didn’t do much of anything ;;

Yoosung*: but I’m glad I helped you

Yoosung*: I’m going to go play some more LOLOL now

MC: okay

MC: have fun!

Yoosung*: thanks

MC: We should bake together soon

Yoosung*: yeah! Bye!

MC: bye!

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Meijeong let out a long, relieved sigh and flopped backwards onto her bed, clutching her phone to her chest. Seven was back. He was safe. She rolled to her side and tucked her hair behind her ear, smiling. Everything felt so much lighter now. She felt giddy.

“Of course, I’m still going to have to find a way to pay him back for worrying me so much…” Meijeong laughed to herself, “Yoosung would definitely love to help prank Seven for once, instead of being the victim. We’ll have to think of something good.”

Meijeong lay there for a while, relaxing in the glow of relief. Briefly, she considered trying to get in touch with Zen again, but… well, the adrenaline from the evening’s surprises was wearing off, and suddenly, she was exhausted. She was about to crawl under the covers and go to bed when her phone buzzed and lit up against her chest. The name 707 flashed bright on her screen, and she smiled softly.

“Hey there, Seven,” Meijeong said, propping herself up in the bed and leaning her face against the phone. Her voice was quiet and wistful now that the shock of his return had worn off. “I’m glad you’re back.”

“Ding! That is the correct answer! Congratulations Contestant Meijeong,” Seven announced, bright and cheery like a game show host.

“Oh, do I win a prize?” she teased. Meijeong grinned and tucked her hair behind her ear, “Hmmm… what kind of prize do I want…?”

“Oh-hoho, not so fast! There’s one more thing you have to do to win!” Seven chuckled mischievously. “You have to repeat what I say on the count of three, okay?”

“Okay,” said Meijeong. “I’m ready.”

“Okay! 1, 2, 3,” counted Seven. “I forgive Seven for disappearing with no warning. Well… with some warning. Bad warning. Scary warning, that made things worse, uhhhm… ehehehe…” his voice trailed off awkwardly.

“Seven…” Meijeong sighed and rolled her eyes. “You’re ridiculous. I wasn’t lying in the chatroom. If you’re okay, then I’m okay.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I wanted to hear your voice.” he paused, “… Can I be selfish, even after all I put you through?”

“Do I still get a prize?” Meijeong teased. She smiled, relieved, when he laughed in response.

“Ummm... how about I give you some of my Honey Buddha Chips? Or SevenStar Drink? I think I still have some of that left lying around here somewhere…” Seven said.

“SevenStar Drink? Uhhhh….” Meijeong said, pursing her lips. She tucked her legs up underneath herself and sat up straight on the bed. “I’m almost afraid to ask… I was thinking something more like… actually, I didn’t think that far ahead, but definitely not snack food.” Meijeong laughed. “Something better than that. I’ll have to think about it more.”

“Okay!” said Seven cheerfully. There was a pause again, and Meijeong heard his voice began to drop again. “I… uhh….”

“Seven,” she interrupted, “I forgive you, really. I know you would never do anything to hurt me on purpose, and whatever happened, whatever reason you had with the agency and work that you had to disappear like that, I’m sure it was really important. I understand. So don’t blame yourself, and don’t worry about it anymore, okay? I forgive you.” She added again, firmly, and smiled.

“Meijeong… Mei…” Seven began, “I don’t deserve all that, but thank you.”

“Of course,” she said cheerfully.

“You’re an angel,” he added, sounding brighter already.

“Hey, I still expect to get rewarded for my kindness,” Meijeong teased, “And don’t you forget it.”

In response, Seven only giggled devilishly, allowing his voice to reach a maniacal tone. Swept up in relief, Meijeong joined in, laughing until her sides cramped up.

“I have to go,” said Seven eventually, “Work to do… thank you.”

“Alright… goodnight,” Meijeong said, “Make sure you get some rest.”

“You too. Bye.”

The night had ended so perfectly, with things wrapping up so neatly, that it seemed impossible to Meijeong that anything could go wrong the next day. Unfortunately, that was not the way that life worked. When she opened the chatroom over breakfast the next morning, disaster awaited.

 

ZEN: Hey, Meijeong

MC: Zen~! I tried to call you last night.

MC: I’m sorry if I worried you.

ZEN: Oh…

ZEN: I have some bad news.

ZEN: I was ashamed to talk to you

ZEN: U_U ///

MC: What? Why?

ZEN: I twisted my ankle…

MC: oh my god Zen

MC: Are you alright

MC: do you need help?

MC: do you need to go a doctor

ZEN: I got an ambulance to the hospital last night

CAST PICTURE

ZEN: I have a cast.

ZEN: The doctor says that I’ll have to have it on for 2 weeks.

ZEN: If I don’t be careful, it might lead to a more serious injury

ZEN: so he told me not to try anything rash…

MC: I’m so so sorry

MC: Does it hurt?

MC: Can I get you anything?

ZEN: haha;;;

ZEN: It’s embarrassing to tell you this

ZEN: but I feel as if my ankle is screaming.

ZEN: U_U ///

MC: That’s nothing to be embarrassed about

MC: I’ve sprained my ankle in the past too

MC: it hurts like hell,

MC: So don’t worry about that

MC: And is there anything I can help you with?

ZEN: Thanks, Meijeong

ZEN: I’ll try to calm down.

ZEN: Don’t worry too much…

ZEN: I’ll be fine.

ZEN: I shouldn’t have gone so hard with my workout last night.

ZEN: Jumin…

ZEN: that jerk kept provoking me

ZEN: so I totally fell for it

ZEN: and did more than I could handle…

MC: omg

MC: Is this all because I got upset at Jumin?

MC: Zen omg I’m so sorry

MC: I already made up with Jumin over that, that’s why I was trying to call you

MC: So you wouldn’t worry

ZEN: No, don’t blame yourself

ZEN: That jerk always says things that fire me up

ZEN: so damn high and mighty

ZEN: going on about cats

ZEN: and I let it get to me

MC: but still…

MC: Zen I feel awful

ZEN: I’m the one who should feel bad

ZEN: It’s so pathetic of me

ZEN: to be like this in front of you.

MC: No, you’re not pathetic

MC: Just focus on getting better and don’t worry about anything else

ZEN: Thanks.

ZEN: I’m still embarrassed though.

ZEN: This is all because

ZEN: I did this to myself…

ZEN: ;;T_T;;

ZEN: Even if my ankle isn’t a big problem…

ZEN: It’s going to take some time to heal…

MC: Oh no…

ZEN: There’s no way I’ll be able to do the rehearsals for the Echo Girl show like this…

ZEN: I never thought that I would miss the chance to act of stage

ZEN: because of a stupid injury

ZEN: but I can’t practice anymore…

MC: Oh no

MC: Isn’t there anyway to make it work?

MC: I mean, I know rehearsals start in a few days

MC: but can’t you at least sit and watch and run lines with them?

ZEN: the choreography and the staging for the show will be too complicated for a show this large

ZEN: Even if I do get the cast off by the show opening

ZEN: there’s no way I can learn it all

MC: Zen… I’m so sorry

MC: I wish there was something I could do

ZEN: Thank you for always being so kind.

ZEN: Really…

ZEN: Everyone

ZEN: including the director

ZEN: always tells me to take a break

ZEN: but I couldn’t help myself.

ZEN: I’m pathetic, right?

MC: You’re not pathetic at all. It was only an accident.

ZEN: I want to become a great actor…

ZEN: Why is life always against me?

ZEN: I feel as if I’ve only had struggles since I was little.

MC: What happened when you were little?

ZEN: A lot of things.

ZEN: But mainly, my family was against my dream…

ZEN: so I ran away from home.

ZEN: Nothing worked out at all back then.

ZEN: I would lose a role for no reason.

ZEN: or get pushed to the back by people who’d bribe the directors…

ZEN: Things like that always happened.

MC: That sounds really hard.

MC: But you’ve always fought your way through it, and come out better for it.

MC: Things didn’t always go the way you think they’re going to

MC: But they worked out, and got you here, right?

MC: Maybe this will work out in a way you didn’t expect too

MC: So try and be positive! Cheer up and get back your spirit!

ZEN: Alright. I’ll try to think that way.

ZEN: Sometimes things do go wrong…

ZEN: and sometimes things go fine.

ZEN: I guess that’s how it is.

ZEN: I feel much better now.

ZEN: Jumin said one thing right,

ZEN: I should grasp any opportunity given to me…

ZEN: You know…

ZEN: I can’t practice my moves

ZEN: but I think I feel more relaxed.

ZEN: Maybe I could go meet you?

MC: I’d love that~!

MC: Although, given that you’re in a cast

MC: I should probably come to you, lol

ZEN: Okay, that makes me feel better ^^

ZEN: I’ll go get some rest.

MC: Feel better, Zen.

ZEN: Okay, thanks ^^

ZEN: Let’s talk later.

MC: Bye

MC has left the chatroom.

ZEN has left the chatroom.

 

Chapter Text

“Alright,” Meijeong talked to herself as she got ready for the day, throwing on an oversized sweater and jeans, “My shift today is a short one, so I’ll have time after work to stop and grab groceries. I can bring that over to Zen’s and cook him food there… something warm and comfort food, but still healthy… let’s see…”

She was brushing her teeth when the phone rang.

RING! RING!

“Ah, crap,” she spat, struggling to balance doing so many things at once. She managed to rinse out her mouth and grab the phone at the last possible second.

“Hello?”

“Good morning, Meijeong,” said Jaehee, sounding tense. Meijeong knew she must have read what Zen had written in the chatroom. “Happy New Year’s Eve.”

“Sh-“ Biting another curse word off before it began, Meijeong looked at her phone. The date was January 31st.

“Oh my god, it is New Year’s Eve. I completely forgot with everything that’s going on,” Meijeong groaned, running her hand back through her hair. “First Seven, now Zen, and Subin’s plane is landing tomorrow night…”

“Yes… it seems Zen’s year is off to a most inauspicious start…” Jaehee sighed.

“At least its not the Lunar New Year. Maybe having bad luck now means he’ll have wonderful luck in a couple weeks.” Meijeong offered, trying to be optimistic.

“Maybe…” said Jaehee, not sounding overly convinced. “Zen does recover from injuries remarkably quickly. It’s likely that the doctor’s estimate of two weeks is inaccurate, but even so…”

“Yeah, rehearsals and the show are less than week and half away, right?” Meijeong said, biting her lip, “And there’s only three rehearsals to start with. It’d take a miracle for him to be able to do it.”

“Exactly,” said Jaehee, “It’s a shame, but I think Zen’s going to have to give up the role.”

“Ugh…” Meijeong sighed, “I’m sure he’s already thinking about that... I’ll talk to him about it tonight. I hope he doesn’t want to go out drinking for the holiday. I’m okay with some beers at his place, but I am not up for fighting the New Year’s crowds after everything that’s been going on.” She passed the phone from hand to hand as she gathered her things and put on her jacket.

“Oh…” Jaehee said, “About that… I was hoping that you would reconsider visiting Zen given everything that’s going on with his career right now.”

Meijeong stopped dead in the middle of putting on her boots. “I’m sorry, but what?”

“He’s going to have enough trouble dealing with the fallout of leaving the Echo Girl show, given that the press has heard rumors about his participation,” continued Jaehee, her tone serious. “I’m sure they’ll be looking for reasons…”

Jaehee paused, and Meijeong took a deep breath, not wanting to say anything harsh, but finding it hard to restrain herself.

“Any kind of scandal right now could ruin his career,” Jaehee finished, “He has to keep up appearances.”

“Jaehee,” Meijeong spoke slowly, trying to be patient when she definitely did not feel like being so. “I’m not about to leave my friend alone by himself when he’s going through so much bad stuff, especially on New Year’s Eve.” She opened the door to the apartment, and made her way to the elevator, waving behind her to the camera as she walked briskly.

“Of course not, I’m not suggesting…” said Jaehee, “I just mean that perhaps it would be better if Yoosung went…”

“I mean, if you’re that worried about it, Yoosung and I can both go, but I definitely can’t send Yoosung by himself,” Meijeong chuckled, remembering their time together at the bar. “The kid is a lightweight, and now that I know it’s New Year’s and they’ll be drinking, I can’t leave Zen to babysit him by himself when he has a cast on.”

“Oh, that’s… that’s true…” Jaehee paused, “Perhaps Seven could accompany Yoosung… though I doubt he will be able to… if I was free, but Mr. Han and I have a company party tonight…”

“Jaehee, why are you so dead set against me going? Even with Yoosung?” Meijeong frowned as she punched the button on the elevator. “This is ridiculous- you’re a woman too but it’s okay for you to go?”

“Your appearance and lack of formality with Zen could lead others to jump to the wrong conclusions,” said Jaehee bluntly.

“Screw what other people think! Look, I may not understand the big corporate celebrity world, but Zen is my friend, and I’m not going to stop hanging out with him just because of what other people might think…” Meijeong bit her lip, reigning in some of her anger and dropping her raised tone down to something less confrontational. “And I wish I didn’t have to justify myself to you every time I see Zen in person.”

“I’m sorry if you feel like I’m overstepping,” said Jaehee, “I’m only interested in protecting him.”

“I wish you understood I want the same thing,” Meijeong sighed, “Look, I’m going to visit Zen tonight. If Yoosung or Seven or some other ‘appropriate chaperone’ can come and supervise, great. If not, I’m still going. Sorry. I have to go to work, I’ll talk to later.”

Meijeong hung up before Jaehee could get another word in. Sometimes, she and Jaehee got along so well, and then other times… she couldn’t understand why Jaehee didn’t trust her about this. She had made it perfectly clear that she did not think of Zen as anything more than a friend. Anyone could see that…

The elevator doors opened with a ding and Meijeong got in, politely sidestepping past the elderly couple who lived one floor up to lean against the back wall and sigh again. She fidgeted with her phone, writing out messages to Zen, Yoosung, and Seven about meeting up that night that she would send when she was out of the elevator and had better cell reception.

Worked dragged on forever that day. Very few people were interested in buying books on New Year’s Eve, which is why the store was only open for a half day in the first place. Mr. Park was doing more work on the new computer, leaving Meijeong to watch the mostly empty storefront. She found herself checking her phone frequently. Aslan purred and rubbed himself between her distracted arms as she leaned lazily against the counter, reading the guys’ responses.

Seven couldn’t come, which wasn’t terribly surprising:

I’m already in biiiiggg trouble for putting off work. I could be actually get hurt for it for real >< Plus I don’t really drink. Have fun and party without me!

Zen and Yoosung, however, were very excited to party all together. Zen still seemed to be feeling a little down, but the thought of spending time with everyone cheered him up a little. He texted Meijeong the address and made her promise to be careful on the way over.

There’s going to be a lot of weirdos out today! Don’t let your guard down.

Meijeong showed up at Zen’s door after work with her arms full of beer, soju, sweet buns and ingredients to make some stir fried noodles. It was surprisingly mild weather for the time of year, though still a bit brisk. Zen answered the door quickly, leaning on one crutch.

“Hey lady,” Zen said, “Let me give you a hand with those bags.” He balanced himself on the crutch and tried to take all of her groceries.

“No no no no,” Meijeong said, dancing out his reach and sliding through the door without relinquishing a one. “You’re hurt. I’ve got this.”

Closing the door, Zen hobbled after her. Meijeong sighed as she set things down on the counter.

“Zen, sit down. Seriously, I’ve got this,” Meijeong said, rolling her eyes with a smile, “I’m here to help you.”

Ding-Dong!

The doorbell rang before Zen could protest further. Yoosung came in, with more beer and a bottle of vodka.

“Who’s that for?” said Zen, eyeing the bottle and Yoosung cautiously, “Not you, lightweight.”

“Hey!” said Yoosung, “We don’t have to drink all of it. I just thought we should be prepared. Think of it as a New Year’s gift, Zen.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him, Zen,” Meijeong said, pulling out a can of beer and tossing it to Zen, who caught it deftly with one hand, “So just relax tonight and have fun!”

Zen’s kitchen was sparse, to say to the least, but Yoosung and Meijeong made do with what was there, chopping and preparing food with what tools they could find. Zen spent his time going back and forth between teasing Yoosung and praising Meijeong about what a good housewives they both would be. Soon, dinner was made and drinks and food were passed around.

“I don’t need a new computer,” said Zen, “Mine works fine. It’s only game obsessed nerds like you and hackers like Seven that have to have the latest technology.”

“Okay, but your computer still only uses floppy disks,” said Yoosung, “It’s not a matter of latest technology, you can’t even if check your email in under 15 minutes. How do you even update your fan site? Tell him Meijeong.”

“You’re just mad because you can’t play LOLOL here.”

“You’re both idiots,” Meijeong laughed, rolling her eyes. “Zen, where’s your bathroom?”

He pointed to the hall. “Through the bedroom. Don’t be too tempted to snoop around in there, lady.”

She shushed him and got up off the couch, moved past Yoosung to where Zen pointed and ignored the two boys playfully arguing.

On her way out of the bathroom, Meijeong paused for a moment in Zen’s room. It was fairly spartan as far as decorations, just a few tokens from fans on a shelf and a whole lot of grooming products. No pictures of family or friends, no posters on the wall from past shows. It was clean. But someone looking in wouldn’t have been able to tell if Zen had been living there for 6 days or 6 months. She sat on the bed, tucking one leg underneath herself, and checked her phone to see if maybe Seven had had enough free time to stop into the chatroom.

“Hey, Yoosung, Zen!” she called out, “V’s in the chatroom!”

There was a yelp from Yoosung and a loud shuffle. 

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: V, it’s so good to see you again

V: Oh, hello Meijeong

ZEN has entered the chatroom.

Yoosung* has entered the chatroom.

V: I was hoping to see you

Yoosung*: V!

ZEN: Hey V

V: Hello Yoosung, Hyun

V: It’s good to see you both as well

V: I have news for everyone

V: I just got off the phone with Jumin and Jaehee

707 has entered the chatroom.

707: hey hey hey

707: hiya hiya

707: huzzah!!

707: have you told them the news yet?

V: Oh Luciel, you’re here too, good

V: No, I haven’t told them anything yet

MC: Told us what?

ZEN: Yeah, what’s the news?

Yoosung*: Is it something about the party?

707: +_+

707: ohohohoho

V: Yes, it’s partially about the party

MC: Do we have a date?

V: We do

V: It’s the last Saturday in March

MC: Oh perfect

MC: That’ll give me plenty of time to get things organized without losing the interest of the people who were involved at Christmas

ZEN: Alright! Nice

Yoosung*: I’m glad

Yoosung*: A real party!!

707: ^_^

707: Partay!

707: Partay!

707: Partay!

MC: lol

V: Yes, I’m glad you all approve

MC: What was the other news you had, V?

V: Oh, that

V: Meijeong, Luciel told about the situation with your friend visiting

MC: Oh right

MC: Thanks Seven ^^

707: ^^

707: Righto!

V: I’ve thought a lot about it

V: And considered the issue of security and safety

V:

V: Since Meijeong’s friend will only be in the country for a short time, and it would raise more questions to not allow her into the apartment, I’ve decided to allow it

V: But Subin can’t know that there is anything unusual about the apartment

V: And she can’t be told about the app or this chatroom

MC: That’s fine with me

MC: I wasn’t going to go into detail with her anyway

ZEN: Yeah, I mean, the RFA is a matter of public knowledge, but there’s no reason for outsiders to know how we run things

707: yep yep

707: I’ll handle security

707: The Defender of Justice is on the case!

707: You just relax and have fun with your friend ^^

Yoosung*: If Meijeong’s friend is allowed at Rika’s apartment…

Yoosung*: Does that mean we can go there too?

ZEN: Oh yeah!

ZEN: It would be great if we could visit Meijeong too

V: well…

V: I’m sorry, but that’s just not possible right now

Yoosung*: What?

Yoosung*: Why not?

V: Well, I’m only making an exception for Meijeong’s friend because she’ll be in the country for a short while…

V: And to help Meijeong avoid awkward questions

ZEN: Is the apartment that much of a secret V?

ZEN: I mean, Meijeong has been there for months

ZEN: Not that we would, but any one of us could have followed her to find the location by now

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: Why does it matter if we got the apartment?

Yoosung*: Why is more okay for a total stranger to be there than us?

Yoosung*: Why don’t you trust us?

MC: I don’t think…

707: Yoosung

707: Relax ~

707: Don’t take it like that

V: Yoosung…

V: That’s not the issue

ZEN: I mean…

ZEN: It is a little weird, V

ZEN: But I’m sure you have a reason for how you do things

Yoosung*: How can you trust him Zen?

Yoosung*: When he doesn’t trust us?

Yoosung*: You too Seven

Yoosung*: V…

707: Just don’t worry about it, Yoosung

707: V has his reasons

V: You don’t have to defend me, Luciel

Yoosung*:

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

ZEN: uhhhh

ZEN: Meijeong, you know that bottle that Yoosung brought?

MC: Oh no

ZEN: He just took a big gulp out of it.

ZEN: I’m going to go get him

MC: I’ll be right there

V: …

707: Yoosung just gets too emotional where V is concerned

MC: I know but…

MC: V… I want to understand everything that’s going on

707: Understanding can be dangerous, you know

MC: ugh yes hackers are cockroaches and dangerous and blah blah blah

707: dangerous creatures :P

MC: :P

V: I’m sorry to make things confusing for you

MC: I know

MC: I guess I’m just trying to say

MC: I trust you guys

707: ^^

707: You can trust V for sure~

V: Luciel is too kind

MC: Well, right now, Zen is being the kind one and trying to get a bottle of vodka away from an upset Yoosung with a bad ankle

MC: So I better go help before he gets hurt

707: lolololol

V: oh dear...

MC: drunk Yoosung is pretty easy to calm down into a fun guy again ^^

MC: you sure you don’t want to come help Seven?

707: T_T

707: I can’t

707: I’ll get in big trouble if I leave my work

MC: oh well :(

MC: Happy New Year, both of you!

MC: ^^

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Drunk Yoosung was… less easy to calm down that Meijeong would have hoped, but eventually, his yelling stopped and he grew quiet, asking to be left alone for a bit. Zen and Meijeong obliged him, and Zen took a moment to show her his favorite part of the house.

The air on the rooftop was clear and cold, and Meijeong wrapped the blanket Zen handed her around her shoulders tightly. Tilting her head back, she stared up at the stars, which, while not as clear as they were on the night drive with Seven were still much brighter than at her own apartment. She helped Zen sit down, worried that he would struggle with the cast, and then folded her legs to kneel beside him.

“I understand why Yoosung is so upset,” Zen said, his breath coming out in a fog, “But I just can’t help but trust V’s decisions.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong sighed, “I feel bad. Maybe I’m only okay with the weirdness around the apartment because I got what I wanted this time. I mean, it is weird, and I get why Yoosung is upset, but…” Her voice trailed off.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Zen. “But unlike Yoosung, I have no reason not to trust V, even when things seem weird. V saved my life when I had my motorcycle accident. He got me to the hospital, and made sure I was taken care of immediately. If he hadn't... I probably wouldn't be here today," Zen smiled and pushed forward to a more cheerful subject, "But even before that he and Rika were some of my first real fans.”

“Really? I don’t think you ever told me about that,” Meijeong said.

“Mhmm,” Zen said, “My family life wasn’t very good when I was growing up, and I ended up running away from home when I was in middle school… I wandered around, acting when I could, and came here. I moved from one small theater company to another and then met Rika.” Zen smiled at the memory.

“Yeah?” Meijeong pulled the blanket around herself tighter, watching Zen.

“Yeah, she was one of my earliest fans. It’s amazing that someone like her was keeping an eye on me,” he grinned, “I was so lucky. Rika was a turning point in my life. She even told me that she knew a businessman who could help further my career.”

“Jumin?” Meijeong laughed. “I bet that went well.”

Zen chuckled. “Right. Since her boyfriend V’s childhood friend was Jumin… she introduced us. But… well, I didn’t want to be swayed by money, but that wasn’t why I hated him right away.”

“So…” Meijeong bit her lip, unsure if it was okay to broach the subject, “why did you hate him right away?”

Zen sighed, and brushed his hair back out of his face. It draped in fair strands, glowing with an otherworldly hue in the moonlight. Meijeong never could get used to how strikingly beautiful Zen was, even after becoming such good friends with him.

“What I hated was that Jumin’s arrogant attitude reminded me of my brother. Or, I guess, the person my brother grew into…” Zen shifted his weight, propping the cast up at a different angle. “It’s kind of a long story. Do you want to hear it?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned my brother before… I don’t talk about my family a lot. I used to be really close to him when I was little,” Zen sighed, “Now that I think about it, I think it was because there was a big age gap between us. We’re 10 years apart, so I guess he thought I was cute then.”

Meijeong nodded, scooting closer to lean on Zen. She shivered a bit in the cold, and he laughed, putting his arm and his blanket around her too.

“When I was little, I never knew I was good looking. My parents always told me I was ugly. They’re both really conservative teachers, so they wanted me to think that so that I wouldn’t be tempted to rely on my looks,” Zen said, “But when I was little, their words hurt me. Thankfully, my brother always told me the truth. He told me that getting attention because of your appearance wasn’t something bad… it’s something you can be proud of.”

“You must have really looked up to your brother…” Meijeong said.

“Yeah, I did,” Zen said a little bitterly, “I thought at least he understood me, even if my parents didn’t. It’s foolish now that I think about it. He was so much older than me…”

“It’s not foolish,” Meijeong said, “You were looking for someone to support you. Most of the time, family is where we look first.”

“I guess. But we started growing apart when I was in middle school. When I naturally found out that I’m happiest when I’m singing and performing… I thought he’d support me, but I was wrong.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“My parents started separating us and treating us as if we belong to two different worlds. Suddenly he was the straight A student, I was the delinquent. At some point, he started talking like my parents, telling me that I wouldn’t get a job if I didn’t focus on real things, instead of a silly hobby… I felt betrayed. I thought he’d recognize me for who I was…”

“Why do you think he changed so suddenly?”

“My guess is… he really started changing after studying for law school. All of sudden money and opportunities were all that mattered to him. And then he started calling me stupid. I could take my parents not letting me do anything, but I couldn’t stand him belittling me.”

Zen grew quiet after that, but he seemed lighter somehow, as if he had finally gotten to say things that he had been holding in for a long time. Meijeong nudged her head against his shoulder and sighed.

“So that’s why you don’t like Jumin?” she said. “It makes sense when you put it that way.”

“Yeah,” Zen replied, “He reminds me of my brother, who always put money or lucky chances above talent…”

“And who you feel like betrayed your trust,” Meijeong added. “You know, I’m not exactly in a super positive Jumin frame of mind myself, but it might be a little unfair of you to think of him in the same mindset of your brother.”

Zen groaned, “Ugh, are we really going to talk about the trust fund kid now?”

“I’m just saying,” Meijeong pushed on, “Jumin can be a dick sometimes, but maybe you’re a little extra prejudiced against Jumin because when you think of him you think of your brother.”

“Ugh. Maybe,” Zen said and Meijeong could practically here his eyes rolling, “You’re probably right, but I don’t want to think about that right now. Let’s go see grab Yoosung and bring him up here. The cold air might sober him up, and it’s almost midnight. We might be able to see some fireworks.”

“Great idea,” Meijeong said.

She slid out from under Zen’s arm and helped him stand up, careful to make sure he didn’t trip on either or their blanket capes. The two of them made their way back down into Zen’s house. Ominously, the could hear Yoosung’s voice loudly before they got close. It didn’t sound angry, but…

“Meiiii…. Zeeeeeeennnn…” crooned Yoosung when he saw them come, “You’re baackk! Itz almost *hiccup* New Years! Drink with meee!” He burped loudly, holding an oversized beer can up in a toast and swaying wildly in place.

“Ohhh no,” Meijeong said. As the more agile of the chaperones, she darted in ahead of Zen, trying to decipher how much Yoosung had to drink while they were gone, “I think you’ve had enough, Yoosung,”

“No-puh,” he said, emphasizing the word. His face was bright red, and his eyes were half-shut and glazed. “It’s a party!”

“Meijeong and I can’t party,” said Zen, looking over the empty beer cans with dismay, “We were having a nice time, but now we have to look after you instead. I should have just spent time with her alone.”

“Sheee doesn’t want to be alone wit yooouuu,” said Yoosung. He swayed heavily when he stood in one place, but still managed to dodge out of Zen’s reach easily.

“God, he’s trashed,” Meijeong said, “Yoosung, why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you some water?”

Completely ignoring her, he continued, “Meeeiiii wants to be-“ he hiccupped loudly, “alone with Seven…!”

Meijeong felt her own face turn bright red now, and she was extremely grateful that Zen ignored Yoosung’s remark. Instead, Zen rolled up his sleeves, and shuffled over, pinning the drunk Yoosung between the coffee table and couch. In one quick, athletic move, he tackled Yoosung.

“Watch your leg!” Meijeong yelled, rushing over.

Unphased and unharmed, Zen managed to wrestle the drunken Yoosung onto the couch, and Meijeong grabbed the oversized can of beer from his hand. Yoosung struggled, grasping for the drink.

“Heyyy, no fair,” he groaned, reaching out but unable to move out from under Zen firm and much more sober hold.

“Yoosung, you’ve had enough for tonight,” said Meijeong, kneeling down so she was eye-level with him.

“Just *hiccup* one more,” Yoosung pouted, looking every bit a sad, drunken puppy.

Meijeong sighed. “Fine. Look, this is the very last drink of the night, right?” she said, speaking slowly and clearly, “And when this can here is empty, I want you to promise me that no one drinks any more, okay?”

“Fiiinnne, I *hiccup* promissse,” said Yoosung, reaching out again. His arms were wobbly but determined.

“Pinky swear, Yoosung,” said Meijeong, relying on a many a drunk’s tendency to stick to old childhood taboos and rules religiously to hold him to his word. She held out her hand, little finger extended, and waiting while Yoosung fumbled and reached out and linked his pinky finger with hers.

“Pinky Swear,” he mumbled.

“Right, no more drinks for anyone once this one is empty,” Meijeong repeated for emphasis, “Zen you swear too.”

Zen rolled his eyes, but agreed, able to see where she was going with this. They all linked pinkies and Meijeong took a deep breath, bracing herself.

“Good boy, Yoosung,” she said.

“Mmm okay now gimme-“ Yoosung reached out for the beer, but Meijeong pinched her nose tilted her head back and chugged it, finding the urge to gag when it burned a bit stronger than she was anticipating.

“Heyy, you cheated,” Yoosung whined, struggling against Zen again, though more gently than before.

“Meijeong! Damn,” Zen laughed, “You should have let me do that… Are you okay?”

Zen suddenly looked very worried, and Meijeong didn’t blame him. She shuddered, feeling both red and green all at once.

“That… was not beer,” Meijeong sputtered and gagged, “Yoosung, why was that not beer?”

“It was half eeeempty *hiccup*” Yoosung hiccupped loudly, “Sooo I *hiccup* refilled it.”

“Shit,” said Zen simply.

Meijeong shuddered again. She looked at bottles of vodka and soju on the counter and realized what combination had created the truly horrific flavor and sensation she had just experienced. Her stomach churned and her face was warm.

“Oh god. Zen, I need some water, and I swear I will try my best not to puke on your floor.” She tried to stand to go to the sink, but the world spun and she flopped back onto the couch with a heavy thud.

“Yeah, I’m on it,” he said, “Hold Yoosung.”

Yoosung, for his part, did not seem in any rush to stand now that he had Meijeong sitting next to him, and curled up next her much like a puppy. She wouldn’t have minded except she wasn’t sure if it any moment she would need to push past him to rush to the bathroom. Zen hobbled back with a glass of water, and she sipped it slowly.

Sitting down on her other side, Zen grimaced, “Are you going to be okay?” he said, looking at her with deep concern.

“I’m fiiiine,” said Yoosung, snuggling closer to Meijeong.

“I know you’re fine. This is your fault,” said Zen sharply, “And watch where you put your hands! Don’t take advantage of the situation.”

Yoosung wrapped his arms around Meijeong waist and smashed his face into her elbow.

“Zen that is so far beyond important right now,” Meijeong groaned and took another sip of the water, “Pretty sure I’ll be all cuddly with you too once this booze hits me fully anyway, so try not to let the beast out okay?” She teased, trying to make light of the fact that her organs felt like death, but there was a pleasant sort of buzz filling her brain that was making it hard to see clearly whether or not she was imagining Zen’s face turning bright red.

“This is why I always warn you about men being wolves!” Zen replied seriously.

“Woof woof,” Meijeong said, feeling a bit silly. “Sorry Zen.” Lightheaded, she leaned on his shoulder. “Awooo…”

She could feel, but not hear Yoosung repeating the woofs into her elbow.

"Sorry... I was supposed to be helping you out..." she laughed... Zen laughed and said...

Zen said something else. Or maybe she thought he did.

Vaguely, she remembered drinking more water. She wasn’t thirsty. Because Zen got her some. Her stomach felt icky. Yoosung was nice and warm, but Zen made him move.

Oh wait. No, she moved? Or Yoosung moved. Either way… Zen made her drink more water. Her stomach was funny feeling. Ugh. Uuuuuggghhhh… her mouth tastes funny… More water…

Zen’s bed’s nice. Not too soft. Not too squishy. Warm. Zen won’t let Yoosung snuggle with her though. Mean Zen… Everyone should snuggle. Snuggle and be warm…

Sleepy… sleepy… come snuggle… sooo… sleepy… 

 

 

Meijeong was not feeling her best when she went to pick up Subin at the airport. She smiled as cheerfully as she could when she saw her friend, helping her put her bags into the back of the taxi and trying not to flinch at the sounds of car horns. Subin looked good, though jet lagged and tired herself. Her hair was now a shade of grey that faded into purple, and she had a new tattoo on the inside of her wrist, a constellation.

Subin had not stopped talking since the two met, and she was beginning to show concern at Meijeong’s unusually sullen silence.

“Seriously, are you okay? You look awful,” Subin looked at her closely, peering into Meijeong’s bloodshot eyes.

“I’m fine,” Meijeong scowled, “Everything is just really loud.”

Suddenly, Subin’s eyes lit up with realization.

“Oh my god! You’re hung-over!” Subin laughed hysterically, causing Meijeong to flinch. “Since when do you get drunk without me?”

“I don’t get drunk. I have drinks occasionally.”

Subin only laughed harder and Meijeong groaned.

“Fine. It was just last night for New Years. I wasn’t planning on drinking that much,” Meijeong grumbled, “But I’m not a complete hopeless loser, you know. I have other friends. Some new ones. You’ll like them.”

“Really?” Subin said, “That’s awesome. Does this have to do with that charity group you’ve been working with?”

“Yeah, it’s those people. I’ll introduce you. Eventually,” said Meijeong, “Preferably when the lights stop being so obnoxiously bright and my head stops pounding.”

The taxi jolted a bit over a bump in the road and Meijeong moaned, folding over to rest her head on her lap miserably. Laughing again, Subin rubbed her back and, like any true best friend, began telling her nauseated friend about all the awful airline food she had to eat on her flight.

Chapter Text

“So basically, you’ll still have to do maintenance to keep the site up and running, but all the coding is done and you shouldn’t have to touch that part of it. I think,” said Subin a couple nights later at the bookstore. “It’s nothing fancy, but it’s functional, and it’ll definitely draw in more customers.”

“Thank you, dear,” said Mr. Park, ruffling his niece’s hair and causing the violet and grey layers to stick out and fall in odd patterns. 

“I can handle most of the basics,” said Meijeong, leaning over Subin’s shoulder to look at the screen, “And I have a friend I can call if something major goes wrong when you’re gone.”

Aslan hopped up onto the desk and walked in front of the monitor, frustrated that he was not the center of attention. Ginger cat hair dropped onto the keyboard and Subin sighed, sliding back in the computer chair so Mr. Park could scoop up the tabby into his arms. 

“One of those fundraiser guys?” Subin asked, standing up and stretching. She slid the chair back forward so that her uncle could use sit down and look over the site himself.

“I’m glad you’re getting involved in those sort of things,” added Mr. Park over his shoulder, scratching Aslan between the ears. “It’s nice to see young people caring about important causes.”

“Yes, one of them,” Meijeong said, and added, “Thank you Mr. Park. I’m glad I got involved too.”

“When are you going to introduce me to them?” said Subin, 

“Maybe when we’re done here, depending on if anyone’s free?” Meijeong said, tucking her hair behind her ear and straightening her ponytail. She looked over the last stack of paper notes by the phone again. 

“You can head out, girls,” said Mr. Park. “It’s late and I think we’ve gotten quite enough done for tonight. Just be safe if you do decide to go out. Especially with boys." 

“We will, Mr. Park,” Meijeong said, smiling.

“Of course, Uncle. You know I’m always careful.” Subin added.

The two girls gathered their things and left, making sure the door to the storefront was safely locked behind them. It was a chilly winter night, but the wind wasn’t too bad, and they didn’t feel the need to rush to avoid freezing. Meijeong felt comfortable with her jacket and her scarf, and San Francisco’s climate wasn’t so different that Subin needed to make any major adjustments. As they walked Meijeong checked her phone.

Many aspects of the RFA were still kept hidden from Subin, but Meijeong’s membership was somewhat a matter of public record since the Christmas party, as was the identity of all the other members (though Seven’s ‘identity’ was as dubious as ever). Meijeong still didn’t share a ton of information, and Subin, for her part, didn’t pry. Subin’s only real interest was what kind of good causes they supported and raised money for, and what the people who Meijeong worked with were like, and both of those details were easy enough to provide.

After all, there was no reason for Subin to think there was anything weird about a charity association, and it was her friend’s ease with it all that once again reminded Meijeong just how odd things with the RFA could be at times. There were things that Meijeong had gotten used to that were, well… odd was probably the best word for it. Classified documents were one thing, but V’s continued insistence that the apartment location remain largely a secret was just strange. Yoosung had brought it up every time he was in the chatroom over the past few days, much to Zen, Seven, and Jumin’s chagrin. Jaehee and Meijeong both agreed with him but were… well, much quieter about their concerns, and much more willing to put them aside for the time being. 

The chatroom was another secret from Subin. It wasn’t necessarily that it had to be, but… well, it was easier to explain mass texts than a super advanced messenger app that by which its hacking Meijeong was coerced into joining a mysterious organization.

“So are any of these people free tonight?” asked Subin as they walked.

“Let me check.”

Meijeong scrolled through text messages first, and saw a whole string from Zen. “Huh,” she said, “It looks like Zen… has rehearsal…?”

“Isn’t he the one who couldn’t do the show because of the injury?” Subin asked. The pair slowed down as Meijeong tried to read through them all.

“Yeah… that’s what I thought,” Meijeong frowned, confused. “Something else must have come up. I’ll check when we get back to my place.”

“Right.”

Back at the apartment, Meijeong kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the couch, opening up the chatroom. Subin had already been there once before and gotten the tour- she had found the high security aspects unusual, but Meijeong had been able to explain it away as being something a former owner installed that the RFA just utilized because it was convenient. It was a half-truth, and enough to satisfy Subin.

“Do you care if I make tea and some snacks?” called out Subin, not waiting for answer. Meijeong heard her banging around in the kitchen, opening cabinets and getting what she needed.

“Sure,” she replied, not looking up. “Make some for me too.”

 

 

ZEN: I have good news!

MC: Does it have something to do with why you’re at a rehearsal?

ZEN: ^_~

ZEN: Echo Girl came to see me today

MC: At your home?

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: Oh! Don’t take it the wrong way.

ZEN: Nothing strange happened.

ZEN: I even got autographs for Yoosung and Seven.

MC: How’d she find out where you lived?

MC: Did you tell her that you can’t do the show…?

ZEN: Well, I was going to-

ZEN: But, well…

ZEN: ah, just listen

MC: mmkay

ZEN: ^_^

ZEN: Apparently, Echo Girl is really famous.

ZEN: I mean, knew but she’s so famous that when she’s busy she takes a helicopter!!

ZEN: But…

ZEN: God.
ZEN: Remember how she showed up after my show Meijeong?

MC: Yeah, she said she’s a fan of yours

MC: What about it?

ZEN: Even celebrities like me now lol~

ZEN: This is trouble…

MC: Why?

MC: Did something happen?

ZEN: Well…

ZEN: it’s not necessarily a bad thing

ZEN: Normally, it would be the right decision to give the roll to someone else

ZEN: But Echo Girl told me she planned all this just for me…

ZEN: She says the whole production’s pointless if I don’t play the lead.

ZEN: She seemed so desperate I couldn’t just refuse…

MC: oh wow…

ZEN: The rehearsals will go as planned

ZEN: ~So I’m back to practicing like crazy right now lololol

MC: Is that okay though?

MC: I mean, I’m really glad you get to do the role after all, but…

ZEN: I know what you mean.

ZEN: It feels a little wrong to me too

ZEN: But…

ZEN: I can’t let an opportunity this good pass me by

MC: Still…

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: I’ll just work really hard

ZEN: So that I perform my role perfectly

ZEN: And prove I deserve this role

MC: Alright ^^

ZEN: I’m gonna go run lines again

ZEN: Come help me with them sometime

ZEN: ^_~

MC: Yep

MC: See you later

ZEN has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

“So what’s up with the actor guy- uh, Zen, right?” Subin asked, handing Meijeong a mug of tea and setting a plate of crackers and cheese on the coffee table. Flopping ungracefully onto the floor, Subin sat down with her legs crossed and leaned against the couch.

“Apparently Echo Girl personally came to see him because she heard he had dropped out of the show?” said Meijeong, sliding forward on the couch so she could reach the plate, “And has arranged it so he’ll be able to do the role as planned, since he’ll have the cast of before opening night?”

“Huh,” said Subin, pausing to chew, “That’s… uncharacteristically charitable for her. He must be good looking.”

“Yeah?” Meijeong frowned, “I mean, yeah, he is, but… is she that bad?” She bit her lip, worried.

“Well… Nobody I know who has worked on one of her productions has had anything good to say about her,” Subin shrugged and grabbed another cracker, “To be fair, there’s a big difference between how production staff and the underlings and gofers are treated and how other actors get treated by even the best of productions, so it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

“Still…”

“Yeah. I don’t want to go gossiping about somebody I haven’t worked for personally though,” Subin said, “Plus, the whole atmosphere for a stage performance is very different than a television shoot, so she might be acting differently because of that. Or she really is just a fan. Either way, it’s a lucky break for him, so don’t worry about it too much.”

“That’s true,” Meijeong sighed and cradled the warm teacup to her chest, leaning back against the couch cushions.

“Seriously, don’t worry about it,” Subin said, offering Meijeong another cracker, “Sometimes show biz is just about getting lucky at the right time. I hope it works out for him.”

“Yeah,” Meijeong laughed, “Although there goes our plans to hang out with him at all while you’re here.”

“Oh no, how will I survive without another vain, self-centered man in my life?” Subin cried sarcastically.

Meijeong laughed and smacked her lightly with a pillow. “He’s really not that bad. Most of the time.”

 

 

 

Jaehee Kang: Is your friend at the apartment with you again?

MC: She’s visiting her family out of town right now

MC: And I’m at work anyways

MC: This is just my lunch break

MC: Did you see Zen’s news last night?

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: Yes

Jumin Han: I can’t say that I’m entirely pleased

MC: ??

MC: Why not?

Jumin Han: There’s no way that Zen will accept the cat food model position now

Jaehee Kang: T_T//

MC: :(

MC: Sorry Jaehee

Jaehee Kang: sigh

Jaehee Kang: thank you

Jumin Han: I’ve recently discovered that many cat food brands are not processed at the highest possible food grade standards

Jumin Han: while at the same time considering all the aesthetic appeal that cats require

Jumin Han: amending this is of the utmost importance

MC: ah;;

Jumin Han: I had hoped Zen would reconsider his position

Jumin Han: Since the acting was put out of his reach

Jumin Han: But there’s no way he’ll accept my generous offer now

Jumin Han: I even consulted the finest allergist in the country

Jumin Han: You’ll be getting an email from him about attending the RFA party

MC: Oh okay

MC: Actually, that’s really awesome!

MC: but

MC: Jumin…

MC: T_T            

MC: I can’t tell if you were trying to take advantage of Zen in a moment of weakness

MC: or be genuinely nice and offer him a way out of a tough time

Jumin Han: Does motive really matter if it helps his career in the end?

MC: sigh

Jumin Han: Since Zen has such a negative bias against me

Jumin Han: he probably wouldn’t have listened to my offer anyway

Jumin Han: even though he accepted Echo Girl’s without question

MC: sigh… Jumin…
MC: Have you thought AT ALL about offering him a job where he isn’t allergic to the other models?

Jaehee Kang: Cats aside…

Jaehee Kang: Truth be told

Jaehee Kang: I’m not sure how I feel about this turn of events either

MC: mmmm…

Jaehee Kang: Our company has done work with Echo Girl in the past

Jaehee Kang: And then there was her behavior after Zen’s show…

Jaehee Kang: I can’t help but worry she’ll want…

Jaehee Kang: more from him

Jaehee Kang: then is proper for a fan or a costar

Jumin Han: She was extremely taxing to work with

Jumin Han: But I think the important thing is

Jumin Han: Unless we can convince Zen to do the show and the cat food model

Jumin Han: We’re going to have start holding auditions

Jaehee Kang: -__-

MC: Right…

MC: I’m not sure that’s something Zen would be interested in…

Jumin Han: He does seem to always reject my offers of assistance

Jumin Han: Which I think is very unprofessional

MC: Speaking of professionalism;;

MC: I have to get back to work

MC: Talk to you later

MC: Good luck Jaehee ^^

Jaehee Kang: Bye ^^

Jumin Han: Laterz

MC: lol what?

Jaehee Kang: OnO??

Jumin Han: I was trying it out

Jumin Han: Luciel says it

Jaehee Kang: please don’t

Jaehee Kang: T_T//

MC: bye!

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

Work went faster than Meijeong expected it to the next few days, given that she was waiting rather impatiently for this particular afternoon. Subin was back from visiting her parents, and Yoosung was free, and the three of them were going to get dinner together. So when the bell on the door tinkled and she saw Sun-mi walking in, it was hard not to bolt into the backroom to grab her things and leave.

Well, maybe she would let herself rush a little. Meijeong took out her phone and called Seven, performing an elaborate bit of arm gymnastics as she held the cell phone to her ear and took off her apron at the same time. But, just like it had that morning, and the night before, and just about every time she called Seven these days, the call went to voicemail.

“Hey Seven…” Meijeong tried not to sigh, “I know you’re really busy right now, but, well… I’m off work and on my wait to meet up with Yoosung and Subin. Just wanted to remind you that you’re more than welcome to join us if you’re free… it would be super crazy awesome if you could… I’d really like to see you…” Her voice trailed off, and she forced herself to smile and sound upbeat again. “So yeah, just get back to me when you can, bye!” 

“Who was that~?” crooned Sun-mi behind her.

“Ah, no one!” Startled, Meijeong spun around, embarrassed. She threw her apron across the room, accidentally smothering Aslan where he lay sleeping on a box of papers.

The orange tabby let out an ungrateful mrowl.

“Sorry Aslan,” Meijeong added, much more calmly, “Just another one of the RFA people! We’re meeting up with Subin today.”

“Right…” Sun-mi smirked, “Is it a cuuuuute one?”

“Haha,” Meijeong said, sticking out her tongue and ruffling Sun-mi’s hair, smooshing her headband out of place, “They’re all cute, in their own way.”

Unperturbed, Sun-mi just fixed it and continued, “Yeah, but is it one you think is cuuuuu~uuuuute??” she teased is a singsong voice. “You liiiiike hiiiim, don’t you~” 

“Speaking of the RFA, Zen’s getting his cast off today,” said Meijeong, cutting her off and changing the subject. 

“Oh my god, that’s awesome!” Sun-mi squeaked, bouncing up and down, “You’re definitely going to introduce me after the show this time, right? I mean, I probably won’t have a chance with him by that point.” 

The teenage girl sighed dramatically and Meijeong laughed, grateful for how easily distracted Sun-mi was.

“Why not?” Meijeong asked, “I mean, you’re right; you’re way too young for him, but-“

“There’s all kinds of rumors about whether or not they’ll start dating, of course,” said Sun-mi as if it was obvious. “And they’re playing romantic interests, so of course he’s going to end up falling for her.” 

“Yeah, I don’t think she’s his type,” Meijeong rolled her eyes. “From what I hear, her personality is kind of-“

“What guy is gonna care about personality with a body like that?” Sun-mi replied.

Meijeong almost retorted: Zen would. But she was already running late, and it didn’t really matter what Sun-mi thought about it all. It was just silly gossip, and Zen certainly wouldn’t be bothered by it.

“Alright, well, I’m heading out,” she said, making sure to give Sun-mi’s pigtail a playful tug as she walked past. “Don’t forget that I left the next book for Mrs. Lee sitting in there behind the counter, or you’ll have her wandering the store for an hour until she finds it.” 

“Ugh, god, thank you,” Sun-mi said, “Bye-bye!”

“Later!”

It was cold out, and Meijeong wrapped her scarf tight around her face and neck, hustling to the subway station where she was meeting Subin. She had forgotten gloves, but even though chilly air nipped at her hands every time she took them out of her pockets, she kept checking her phone, hoping to see a reply from Seven. Ever since the holidays, he had been distant- rarely answering her calls, taking days to reply to messages, only stopping into the chatroom every other day or so. And when he was there, well… everything seemed tinted with a kind of sadness that hadn’t been there before. No one else in the RFA seemed notice or think anything of it, but… well, Meijeong couldn’t help but worry. She thought about using up the favor he owed her to force him to come visit, but…

Well, she couldn’t shake to feeling that it was somehow her fault that he was acting this way. Maybe she had pushed things… maybe things had gotten too serious… or… well, anyway- if it was her fault, then forcing him to interact with her wouldn’t make things better.

V had gone completely radio silent too since announcing that Subin could visit the apartment, but the only person that seemed to worry was Yoosung, since a week or two without contact from V was hardly out of the ordinary.

Fast walking through the cold had gotten her to the station a few minutes early, and Subin was nowhere to be seen yet. They had time yet. Meijeong pulled out her phone to check it again and like magic- it rang. A call from 707. 

“Sev-“

“Shhhhh-“ he hissed, cutting her off with a low whisper. “Not yet. Okay… she’s gone. You can talk now.”

“What was that about?” Meijeong faked whispering dramatically. “Are you being watched?”

“Yes,” Seven replied flatly, catching her off guard. “Maid Mary Vanderwood has been very cross with me lately. But she stepped outside for a smoke break so we have approximately… 4 minutes and 37 seconds. 36 seconds. 35. 34. 33…”

“Is that enough time for you to sneak out and come hang out with Yoosung and I?” Meijeong said, “It’ll be fun. Like a secret mission.”

“Oooohh, hehehe,” Seven cackled, “More like Mission Impossible.”

“Dun dun dun duhduhdun,” Meijeong began to the hum the theme song to the movie, and Seven laughed for real this time. “Come on, I’ll sing the song for you the whole time,” she pleaded. “Duhnana… duhnana… duh nah”

“I can’t,” said Seven, “There are things… I can’t do. Things I’m not allowed.”

“God Seven,” Meijeong said, suddenly feeling quite daring. Perhaps it was because of the spy music. “If your job is that miserable, maybe you should find a new one. I mean, you’re a genius, I’m sure you could do whatever you want.”

“Yeah… maybe,” Seven said, not sounding terribly convinced. “Defender of Justice suits me though… even if it dooms me to a world of darkness and shadows.” 

“So you’re saying you’re a watchful protector… a Dark Knight?” Meijeong teased, immediately jumping into a different theme song. “Dananananananananananananananana….. Batman!” 

“Not the hero you deserve… but the one that the RFA needs right now!” said Seven, chuckling, and Meijeong grinned.

The noise on the phone changed and then Meijeong heard him talking more distantly, as if to someone else in the room, “No, I’m talking to anyone. Just myself. If I was talking to someone, though, I would tell them…” he sounded closer again, “Thank you. I’m sorry that that’s all I can do for now. Defender of Justice 707 over and out!”

“Bye!” she fake-whispered loudly, and the call ended. 

“Who was that?” said Subin from directly behind her, and Meijeong jumped. 

“GAH,” she yelped, spinning around, “TWICE today! WHY!?” She cried out in faux-outrage.           

Subin just laughed. “You looked like you were having fun,” she shrugged, “It was cute. I wasn’t about to interrupt.”

“So you just wait to scare me,” Meijeong said, “Kids these days.”

“You love me,” said Subin. “So who was that?”

“Uhh… one of the other RFA members… the tech guy,” Meijeong said, “Luciel, or Seven, depending on who is addressing him.” 

“Both sound equally fake,” said Subin as the two them made their way through the turnstiles and onto the train.

Meijeong shrugged. “They are and they aren’t. Luciel is a baptismal name. Seven is the shortened version of one of his online handles.” The subway was crowded, but the two of them found some seats as the train started to move. Meijeong unwound her scarf.

“Sounds like a weird guy,” Subin said, “But you seem to really like him.”

Meijeong felt her face flush and she groaned, folding over to cover her face with her hands. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I’m not sure. It’s complicated. He’s just so strange it’s hard to figure things out.”

“Well, you don’t have to explain that to me. I know all about mixed singles and strange,” Subin sighed and ran her hand back through her short, feathered hair, “So is he coming to meet us?” 

“No, he can’t,” Meijeong sighed, sitting up, “Like I said, complicated.”

“Oh well,” said Subin, “Next time.”

When they arrived at their stop, Yoosung was waiting for them. His blonde hair was visible through the crowds like a beacon, practically bouncing up and down with excitement as he waved them over.

“Oh my god,” said Subin, “He really is like a puppy. That’s adorable.”

“Shhhh-“ Meijeong elbowed her sharply in the ribs. “Be nice.”

“I am being nice; he’s so cute.”

“Meijeong!” Yoosung called out as they made their way through the last throngs of crowd separated them, “Is this your friend?” 

“Hey Yoosung!” Meijeong hugged him, “Yeah, this is my friend Subin. Subin, this is Yoosung.”

Meijeong gestured back and forth as Subin extended her hand. Yoosung grinned and shook her hand.

“It’s so great to meet one of Meijeong’s friends!” said Yoosung, “We really don’t know that much about her, so this is excited for all of us.”

“What, you’re hiding things?” Subin turning to Meijeong, shocked. “Ashamed of your friend? I am so, so, hurt.”

“No, I mean, I didn’t-“ Yoosung stammered, his face falling-

“Stop it Subin,” Meijeong said and her friend laughed, “Yoosung, you’re fine. Subin is just messing with me.”

“Oh, okay,” he said, perking up instantly, “I was worried.”

“Sorry, I forget that not everyone is used to me being a smart-ass,” Subin laughed.

“Ass, yes,” Meijeong grinned, “Smart, hmmm, debatable.” 

Subin snorted and laughed, and after a cautious second, Yoosung joined in.

“It’s kind of like dealing with Seven, Yoosung,” Meijeong said, “Only less random. Subin likes to tease, but I promise she’ll be nicer until you get used to her.”

“Okay, that makes sense,” Yoosung smiled brightly, “Now I understand why you and Seven get along so well.”

“Ah… oh. Yeah,” said Meijeong. 

“I see…” smirked Subin, elbowing Meijeong playfully. “That does make sense.”

Meijeong scowled at Subin, but Yoosung didn’t noticed. 

“You haven’t met any of the others yet, have you Subin?” asked Yoosung. “You know I got to meet Meijeong first out of everyone in the RFA too? Even though it wasn’t planned, just coincidence.”

“Really?" 

“Yeah, she was delivering books to my university and we just happened to run into each other,” Yoosung said. The three of them started walking, following Yoosung to the restaurant.

“Oh nice, you go to STAR?” said Subin, “What do study there?”

“Oh… uhhmm…”

“Actually,” said Meijeong, “I don’t think you’ve ever told me that either. We talk about what clubs you’re in, but never your classes.”

“Well…” Yoosung frowned, “That’s because, it’s kind of embarrassing, but I’m not sure if I’m going to even keep studying what I came here for. Or if it was even a good idea to study that major in the first place.”

He shuffled his feet on the sidewalk as they walked, absentmindedly kicking at a stray rock. There was an awkward silence in the conversation for a moment. Meijeong watched Yoosung sigh, his breath fogging out in the cold. His face was red, but that definitely wasn’t the temperatures doing. Meijeong bit her lip, feeling bad for bring up a subject she should have remembered was a sore one, trying to think of what to do to help. Luckily, having a friend around means not having to do everything herself.

“I mean, not knowing isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” said Subin after a moment. “Admitting you don’t know something is the first step to finding an answer.”

“Really?” said Yoosung, perking up a bit.

“I changed my major midway through college,” Subin said, shrugging, “My parents weren’t thrilled, but they survived. But I felt really lost for a while before that.”

“Yeah… lost,” Yoosung said, “That’s how I feel right now.”

The three of them hurried into the restaurant out of the cold. The warm air was a welcome relief, and they shuffled off their heavy winter coats and scarves. Thankfully, there was an open table and they were seated immediately. 

“Lost isn’t so bad at your age,” said Subin, sliding into the booth. “That’s one thing I’ve learned. Being lost got me to start looking around, and looking around is what led me to where I am today. If I hadn’t felt lost, I would have stayed on the same path forever, and probably been miserable.”

“But I keep looking for things that’ll make me happy,” said Yoosung, “And… nothing really seems to be working out. And my classes just don’t seem important at all anymore. I feel like I’m just muddling through it for no reason.”

“My advice is- go back to the beginning,” said Subin. “Look at your major now, and think about why you picked it. Was it because you wanted to do it, or because you though you should want to do it?”

Subin took a sip of her drink. “Should’s are dangerous when making life decisions. Try to avoid them.”

“Fair warning with all this advice, Yoosung,” Meijeong teased, “Subin’s an art major, not a real major.”

“Says the girl who graduated late,” Subin joked back, pausing when she Meijeong freeze.

“I didn’t know that,” said Yoosung, looking at Meijeong with wonder. “I always assumed you did great at school.”

“Well, I work retail, not in corperate for a reason,” Meijeong laugh self-derisively. “It just never came up,” she added, smiling at Subin to let her know it was okay. She fiddled with her straw, stirring the ice in her glass around absentmindedly.

“I got a little lost, too, I guess,” Meijeong said slowly, “I don’t talk about it much, but even though it wasn’t the path I thought I was going to take… I’m really glad to be where I am now. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have joined the RFA or met you if I had graduated on time and moved to some far off place to work some fancy job there.”

Meijeong smiled, and shot a quick meaningful glance to Subin, whose eyes grew briefly soft, her gaze like a psychic hug.

“I guess you’re right,” Yoosung said, “I’m still worried but… I do feel better now. Thanks.” He grinned.

“Don’t thank me yet,” said Subin. “Life advice that good isn’t free. You’re buying dinner.”

“What- I- uh-“

“Subin…” Meijeong rolled her eyes and laughed. “She’s kidding Yoosung.”

“Oh, okay.”

Chapter Text

In the kitchen, the teakettle hissed, announcing that the water was finally hot. With a groan, Meijeong put down the book she was reading and got up off the couch to go pour herself a large mug. The smell of chamomile and lavender filled the apartment.

It was far, far too late to still be up, after being out with Yoosung and Subin, especially with work in the morning, but she was just feeling a twinge of insomnia. Not an uncommon thing for her, when she had been out with friends. So instead of sleeping just yet, Meijeong threw on her pajamas and curled up with a new book, a fairy tale retelling that she had kept meaning to read. Her reading list had been growing a bit long since she had joined the RFA, and since she liked to keep up to date on the new releases that came to the store, less popular books that she read for her own pleasure sometimes got pushed to the side.

But since she was going to be up anyway, Meijeong grabbed her tea and her book and curled up on the couch, grabbing a pillow and a blanket and folding herself up so she could rest the book on her knees and lean on the armrest. She had just gotten herself situated comfortably and was reaching for her tea when suddenly, her phone rang.

Ring! RING! RING!

“Hello? Yoosung?” Meijeong answered, looking at the name on the screen, “What’s up? Did I forget something or…?”

“What? Oh no, that’s not it,” Yoosung said, sounding sheepish, “Sorry. I know it’s really late. I just thought of something, and I wanted to talk to you about it.”

“Haha, okay, what’s up?”

“I’m not waking you up, am I?” he asked. “I’m so sorry- It can wait until tomorrow, uh-“

“Yoosung, it’s fine,” Meijeong said. She set her book down and shifted her weight, crossing her legs so she sat up straight on the couch, and tucked her hair behind her ear. “I couldn’t sleep yet anyway. What’s up?”

“Well… I was thinking a lot about what you and your friend said, while we were out,” Yoosung began slowly, “And when I got home, I ended up… looking at old photo albums. Photos from elementary school, middle school, and high school.”

“Haha, really?” Meijeong smiled, “I’d have like to have seen some of those.”

“Yeah, haha,” chuckled Yoosung, “I’ll post one in the chat for you later. I was just thinking about what you guys said, about going back to the beginning and well… I started thinking about Rika.”

“Yeah?” Meijeong picked up her tea and sipped it carefully.

“Mhmm,” Yoosung continued, “I’m Rika’s cousin, but we actually never met when I was little. I first met her when I was in sixth grade, at a family dinner. I wouldn’t have spent any time with her at all, except then I had to satisfy my volunteer requirements in middle school.” He laughed, “To be honest, I only went because my mom told me to.”

“But you ended up having fun? Doing the volunteer work?” Meijeong asked, taking another sip of her tea. She could picture Yoosung nodded enthusiastically as he replied, and she smiled.

“It was fun but more than that…” he paused, trying to find the right words, “I felt so proud of myself that day. Helping Rika work, I got to see people weaker than me for the first time. I remember I asked her… what I would get for helping these people.”

“Haha, that’s such a middle school boy question though.”

Yoosung laughed, “It was though, wasn’t it? This is the answer Rika gave me-

The reason why people want to gain things, objects, possessions, money, whatever, is to earn happiness. But with Rika there, helping them, they were able to find happiness so easily on their own. She always felt that there were things much more important than money, fame, or power. And that’s why she became a person who gave happiness.”

“I see…” Meijeong said, biting her lip as she considered his words.

Yoosung continued, “Rika said that by helping those in need… she felt like a powerful magician who has the power to give happiness. She asked me if I want to be a magician too. I… nodded. And so she created the RFA. Eventually, it grew so big that she could host huge parties.”

“Rika seems like a fantastic person.” Meijeong said, because she knew that was what she was supposed to say, but something was bothering her. She frowned, and shifted.

“Yes… Thanks for saying that, Meijeong,” Yoosung said cheerfully, “You are similar to her, so you’re fantastic too.”

“I guess,” Meijeong said, then laughed it off, “I don’t feel much like a magician though.”

“To me you basically are. I mean, you’re doing the same job as Rika and everything…” Yoosung’s voice trailed off, and Meijeong heard him fussing with something that sounded like paper. “I found this photo too… Rika didn’t come to my high school graduation. That day… I heard that she committed suicide. I couldn’t believe it. The day before graduation… I don’t even remember what I felt. It was something more than sadness. The other members won’t get this.”

“Yoosung… I’m so sorry,” Meijeong said, her heart breaking for him. She set her tea down and crossed her legs to the other side. “It must have been really hard.”

“Yeah… I’m glad at least you get it. Rika must have known… that I was sad from up there. I really wanted her to come to my graduation…” Yoosung paused, and Meijeong thought she her him sniff.

“I’m so sorry,” she said again. “That kind of loss… I think I understand now, why you said you’re having so much trouble with school.”

“You do?” His voice cracked, and Meijeong couldn’t help but smile a little despite how sad the situation was.

“Of course,” she said, “You were working so hard, planning so much of your future thinking Rika would be there to see it all. Not just see it, but… help you create it.”

“Exactly!” Yoosung said, “But, now… she’s gone… and…”

“You relied on her, a lot,” Meijeong said, “That’s good. She helped you find purpose in your life. But…” Meijeong paused, trying to piece together the right words,

“Even if Rika was a great magician, the magic didn’t just disappear because she left, Yoosung. You’re still a magician too. You can still use the magic she taught you.”

“Meijeong…” Yoosung’s voice cracked again, and this time, it sounded as if there were tears behind it, “Thank you for saying that. I feel like… I needed someone to say that. Rika really was… a great magician. I still can’t believe it. That’s she’s no longer in this world. If it was her… who sent you here… I really think that must be the case. Somehow.”

“Heh, You’re welcome,” Meijeong said, biting her lip again, “I don’t think I’m doing any kind of magic. And really Yoosung… you need to talk to people about this stuff. Your family, maybe even a therapist… I know it’s scary, but I think it might help you to start sorting these things out.”

“Maybe… You know, Rika was such an awesome person. She’s no longer in this world…” Yoosung said, “But she always took an interest in me, even with the tiniest things. I was able to do well in high school because of her encouragement. You’re just like her. Sometimes, I’m under the illusion that you two are the same person. You listen to what I have to say, and give me courage. I really like that about you.”

“You know I’m not a replacement for her though, right?” Meijeong said. She rubbed at the scars on her arms, feeling a twinge of anxiety in her chest. “And as much as I want to help you, I’m no magician.”

“Yeah… I… I know that. But you two are so similar. Aren’t you trying to become an awesome person like Rika? A good person… who gives happiness to those in need,” Yoosung said matter-of-factly. “You’re continuing her legacy. That’s what I believe.”

“Yeah…” Meijeong took a deep breath, reminding herself that Yoosung was just trying to pay her a compliment. Glancing down at her arm, she realized that it was too late to try and fight off a panic attack and she changed the subject, “So anyway, Yoosung, I think after all this, you owe me something.”

“Gah! Uh… what’s that?” stammered Yoosung, taken aback by the turn of events, “I mean, you’re right, but- are you teasing me again, like earlier?”

“Haha, yes, I am teasing you,” Meijeong laughed, “But I do want to know something, since I listened to you and gave such excellent advice.”

“Uhhmm… okay,” he said cautiously, “What is it?”

“What’s your major? Really?”

“Oh! Oh, haha,” Yoosung laughed, relieved, “I thought it would be something scary. I guess I spend too much time with Seven. Uhmmm… it’s actually… promise you won’t tell anyone else- not even Seven?”

“Seven probably already knows.”

“That’s true,” Yoosung sighed, “Uhm… it’s Pre-Veterinary Medicine.”

“Really?” Meijeong sat up, surprised, “Yoosung, that’s so cool!”

“Yeah… uhmm… I actually was going to do it because of something that happened to this puppy… Rika’s puppy, Sally….” Yoosung sighed, “She’s gone from this world now too. Gahhh…” Yoosung sounded so flustered by her intense praise.

Meijeong smiled softly, and tucked her hair behind her ear again. “It’s fine Yoosung. It’s really late,” she said, “You can tell me the story another time. We should both go to bed.”

“Uhh… hah. Yeah,” Yoosung sighed again, “Thank you. I’m getting all sentimental because it’s so late. I’ll go now.”

“Sweet dreams, Yoosung.”

“Goodnight!”

Meijeong hung up the phone and sighed, collapsing back into the cushions and pillows she had piled around herself. Absentmindedly, she traced her fingers down the patchwork of scars on her inner forearm.

Of all the RFA members, she assumed only Yoosung remained completely unaware of them. Jumin had seen them and commented, Seven had done enough of a background check to know about more than just a few scars, and Zen and Jaehee were far more observant. But it was more than that- Yoosung was the only member she felt the need to find them from at this point, and it was exactly because of conversations like the one they just had.

“Comparisons are odious,” she quoted to no one, unable to remember where she had heard the line.

It was hard enough sometimes being compared to Rika when Yoosung just saw her as continuing Rika’s legacy. It would be unbearable for him to constantly worry that she was also haunted by Rika’s ghosts.

With a sigh, she picked up her tea, which was a bit colder than she would have liked, and drank it quickly, leaving her book untouched. Meijeong yawned loudly and carried the mug into the kitchen, leaving it in the sink until morning. She should have been in bed already, and now it was going to be harder to fall asleep. Absentmindedly, she opened the RFA app, and wandered back to the bedroom. Yoosung was logged in there now. So was Zen… Zen was great both at providing distraction, and making her feel better. Maybe a quick chat with him would clear her mind…

Crawling under the covers, Meijeong lay down on her side and stared at the bright light of the phone screen.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: Zen, how’s going?

ZEN: Hey cutie~

ZEN: Hey Yoosung

Yoosung*: Hi…

ZEN: Gosh~ So many things going on right now.

MC: You’re up late too.

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: Are you rehearsing your new role?

ZEN: Oh… About that,

ZEN: I think maybe I won’t be able to do this role after all.

MC: What?? Why??

MC: I thought everything was okay now??

Yoosung*: Yeah, Why????

Yoosung*: So suddenly??

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: I might… have to leave the production

MC: Did something happen?

Yoosung*: Do you not want to act anymore?

Yoosung*: Echo Girl is your fan,

Yoosung*: And wanted to go out of her way to act with you,

Yoosung*: So you were excited about it too.

ZEN: I was but…

ZEN: Hmm;;

ZEN: I think Echo Girl might not be my fan anymore

Yoosung*; ???

MC: Did something happen with Echo Girl?

ZEN: Something did happen…

Yoosung*: OuO!!

Yoosung*: What??

ZEN: Echo Girl wanted… hmm….

ZEN: let’s say…

ZEN: a deeper and freer… more physical relationship with me…

ZEN: And I said no.

Yoosung*: OMG… !!

Yoosung*: OuO!!

Yoosung*: OuO!!

Yoosung*: OuO!!

Yoosung*: A deeper and freer relationship;;;;

MC: Oh geez…

MC: I see…

MC: That’s rough, Zen…

ZEN: Yeah… I’m glad you get it.

ZEN: It was a bit awkward.

Yoosung*: …Then what about your new role?

ZEN: I don’t know… I feel complicated right now.

Yoosung*: O_o??

MC: I just hope Echo Girl doesn’t take rejection too badly

MC: and do anything to hurt you…

MC: I’d hate for something like this to somehow affect you or your career.

Yoosung*: Omg…

Yoosung*: No way though…

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: I said no nicely so I’m sure she’ll be fine with it.

MC: I hope so…

MC: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and all that

ZEN: sigh

ZEN: I mean, we’re all professionals

ZEN: So I’m sure it’ll be okay

Yoosung*: I hate how Echo Girl did that;;

Yoosung*: But giving up that role is such a shame T_T

ZEN: I can just do something else

MC: Yeah

MC: There’s always another role for someone as talented as you

MC: ^_^

Yoosung*: ;;>n<;;

ZEN: I still have Echo Girl’s autograph

ZEN: So don’t worry lolol

MC: Praise God Seven! Lolololol

MC: because we all know that’s what really matters

MC: why is there no eyeroll emoji for me??

MC: I need my sarcasm to read more clearly;;

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: I mean, I don’t really care about the autograph,

Yoosung*: But I was pretty excited to see you up on stage with her…!

MC: To be fair…

MC: It’s pretty clear that now that this wasn’t an opportunity that came because of your talent…

MC: But because she just wanted to get close to you

MC: So it’s probably best to just forget about it

MC: and move on to another role

Yoosung*: That’s very mature of you to say, Meijeong.

ZEN: I agree with that.

ZEN: Opportunities that didn’t come to you with honest intentions

ZEN: are that much easier to just slip away.

Yoosung*: Still…

ZEN: I should earn opportunities with my talent.

ZEN: That way, I can impress

ZEN: The fans who watch over me.

ZEN: I can’t always act with my looks you know.

MC: Don’t say that.

MC: You made it because you’re talented, not just because you’re handsome.

ZEN: Do you really think so…?

Yoosung*: I think so too!!

Yoosung*: You became popular because you’re talented too lolol

ZEN: lolol Thanks.

ZEN: ~*But when I look in the mirror, I see how handsome I am and*~

ZEN: ~*I can’t help but think… that everyone’s hypnotized by my beauty.*~

Yoosung*: ;;;

ZEN: ~*I should… cover up the mirror with a cloth or something.*~

Yoosung*: You’re so conceited ugh

MC: lolololol

MC: You know Jumin’s going to bring up the cat ad again now, right?

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: ~* the spell is broke… beauty fading… *~

ZEN: at the mention of that jerk

Yoosung*: And cats

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: my face itches now

ZEN: I’m going to go shower

ZEN: If I have to start looking for new roles again, I need to look my best

MC: Can the best even get any better?

Yoosung*: uuuggh;;

ZEN: Who knows?

ZEN: Shall I challenge God?

MC: lololol

MC: bye Zen

ZEN: bye lady~

ZEN has left the chatroom.

Yoosung*: I have to go too

MC: Me too

MC: I have work

Yoosung*: And I should go to class…

Yoosung*: T_T

MC: Night!

Yoosung*: night!

MC has left the chatroom.

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

Groaning, Meijeong set down her phone and rolled over in bed. Apparently, she wasn’t going to get any relaxing done before bed tonight. Tossing and turning, she eventually found a comfortable position, and managed to fall asleep.

Her alarm the next morning came far too soon, but thankfully, work was slow enough for Meijeong to find her bearings. She hadn’t been able to make herself a lunch, so she walked down to the coffee shop down the street for a sandwich during her break. The café was bustling with other people on their lunch break, but Meijeong was able to find a small table by herself in the corner. After grabbing a few bites of the sandwich she logged into the chatroom, wondering if Zen had any updates about the situation with Echo Girl.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom.

Jumin Han: …Strange.

Jumin Han: Where did my pen go?

ZEN: Hey, Meijeong~!

MC: Hey Zen

ZEN: ^^

MC: Did you lose something Jumin?

Jumin Han: Yes

Jumin Han: Did anyone see my pen?

Jumin Han: It’s gold. There’s a diamond on it.

MC: uhh…;;

MC: No?

MC: Sounds… luxurious though.

Jumin Han: My father gave it to me as a special gift.

ZEN: omg so expensive

MC: Oh geez- where did you see it last?

ZEN: Is it a real diamond? Not just some crystal?

Jumin Han: I don’t know whether or not it’s real but I’m sure he paid the price of a real diamond.

Jumin Han: I heard it’s very difficult to differentiate a real diamond from a fake one these days.

ZEN: … Even his pen is expensive

MC: Fake diamonds, or even “real” diamonds that were man made, are more socially conscious choices anyway

Jumin Han: That may be very true

Jumin Han: Monetary cost is only one factor to consider when purchasing something

ZEN: ugh

ZEN: <_< ‘’’

ZEN: SILVER SPOON

Jumin Han: I can’t help that I was born this way.

MC: Zen, how someone was born isn’t as important as what they do with it.

MC: Just like you were born handsome, Jumin can’t help that he was born rich ^^;;

ZEN: That’s a nice way of putting it Meijeong…

Jumin Han: She’s not wrong.

ZEN: Oh, right

ZEN: I had something I wanted to say to you.

Jumin Han: ?

ZEN: …If it weren’t for my allergy, I would have said yes to your modeling job offer.

Jumin Han: ?

Jumin Han: Why are you suddenly saying this?

ZEN: Just…

ZEN: I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, since my injury, and getting that job and losing that through Echo Girl…

ZEN: and I was talking to Meijeong about it too…

ZEN: I feel bad for giving you the cold shoulder.

Jumin Han: Hmm.

Jumin Han:

MC: Jumin, I think what Zen is trying to say, officially, is that he apologizes.

Jumin Han: I… did not expect to receive an apology.

Jumin Han: This is flustering me a bit.

ZEN: It was because of my allergy that I declined your offer and accepted Echo Girl’s.

ZEN: But also because I wanted to do theater more than modeling.

ZEN: So… don’t misunderstand and think that I said no just because I don’t like you.

ZEN: If, in the future, you want to offer another job that won’t irritate my allergies, I’ll seriously consider it.

ZEN: Okay?

Jumin Han: … I’ll remember the effort you put into explaining everything.

ZEN: Alright…

ZEN: Oh! It’s almost time for my doctor’s appointment

ZEN: I’m gonna go get my cast taken off

ZEN: Meijeong, have a good day ^^

MC: You too! Good luck!

ZEN: Okie ^^

Jumin Han: Oh, right-

Jumin Han: Zen-

ZEN: Ya?
Jumin Han: Did you do something wrong to Echo Girl?

ZEN: Why??

MC: Oh god

MC: why?

Jumin Han: There was a woman who came by earlier and screamed something about revenge…

Jumin Han: And apparently it was Echo Girl…

MC: oh no

ZEN: Yeah… she would have something against me…

Jumin Han: So something did happen.

MC: More like something didn’t…

MC: Ugh… this could be bad.

ZEN: Yeah, but…

ZEN: Why did she go to you!?

Jumin Han: How would I know?

MC: Okay, but what do you think she meant by revenge?

MC: Not going to lie, I’m a little worried

ZEN: Ugh… I guess by revenge,

ZEN: She means firing me from the musical.

Jumin Han: I see.

Jumin Han: No regrets?

ZEN: I’d be lying if I said I had none, but I think it’s out of my hands already

MC: But that doesn’t make sense…

MC: Why would she tell Jumin that…?

ZEN: Don’t worry too much about me, Meijeong

ZEN: I’m sure she’s just being dramatic

ZEN: We actors can do that sometimes…

Jumin Han: I’ve noticed

ZEN: <_<

ZEN: I’m going to take my cast of and meet my director

ZEN: and ask him if I can take that role I passed earlier

ZEN: I think everything will be fine ^^

MC: I hope so

Jumin Han: I hope your ankle is fine.

ZEN: Thanks

ZEN: Talk to you later

ZEN: Then I’ll be off!

ZEN has left the chatroom.

Jumin Han:

MC: I hope you and Zen can keep learning to communicate better.

MC: Do you feel better, about how things are between you now?

Jumin Han: I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it,

Jumin Han: but I do feel more lighthearted

Jumin Han:

Jumin Han: Thank you

Jumin Han: For helping us see things from each other’s perspective more clearly

MC: Of course

MC: My pleasure

Jumin Han: It’s something I’ve been working to get better at

Jumin Han: ever since… you and V stressed the importance of it to me

Jumin Han: I hope I’m showing improvement

MC: I think so ^^

Jumin Han: Where in the world…

Jumin Han: did I leave my pen…?

Jumin Han: Mystery.

MC: Is there anyone who can help you look for it?

MC: Where did you see it last?

Jumin Han: Not sure.

Jumin Han: I’ve wasted too much time as it is

Jumin Han: I must get going.

MC: Good luck! I hope you find it.

Jumin Han: Thank you

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

Meijeong yawned as she got into the elevator at her apartment that night, arms full of groceries. The lack of sleep from the night before was really starting to catch up to her. She rubbed her eyes with her free hand as she punched the button for her floor.

“Hopefully tonight will be a little more relaxed,” she muttered to herself as she got off the elevator. She gave a sleepy smile and wave to the security camera as she walked past, and staggered into the apartment, kicking her shoes off unceremoniously.

Dumping her groceries into the kitchen, Meijeong started the teakettle before she put them away, eager to try again at reading and relaxing on the couch. Still, she couldn’t completely shut out the world. She had a few emails to send about the upcoming party, and she was still a little too nervous about what Jumin said about Echo Girl to skip checking the chatroom.

And Seven was there… so… Meijeong couldn’t help but feel like he had pulled back from her some since New Years. The warm feeling in her chest when she saw his name in the chat was tinge with a little ache now. Sometimes, things were normal, but then other times… She wanted to ask him about. Maybe once things settled down with the whole Zen and Echo Girl situation, she would. Hopefully everything would blow over in a few days.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

Yoosung*: It’s Meijeong!

707: Meow

MC: Seven!! Meow!

707: Meow, Meow!

MC: :3

Yoosung*: ;;;

Yoosung*: Meijeong~

Yoosung*: Do you think Jumin was serious

Yoosung*: when he said Echo Girl came to him and screamed about getting revenge…?

MC: I don’t think Jumin would joke about something like that…

MC: That’s actually why I’m here, in case anything else came up

MC: I’m worried about Zen

Yoosung*: I honestly can’t believe it T_T

Yoosung*: Echo Girl looks super sweet and innocent on TV.

707: lololololololololol

707: Echo Girl’s not innocent.

Yoosung*: What??

707: According to my research

Yoosung*: ? ? ?

MC: I’m almost afraid to ask

MC: What’d you find?

707: I found several things

MC: and why were you looking into Echo Girl?

707: I actually get a lot of requests to do background research on celebrities lolol

Yoosung*: For real!?

Yoosung*: I guess your job is more fun than I thought.

707: It’s not fun

707: I’m not really interested in celebrities…

MC: Just what their autographs can buy you :P

707: right!

707: Echo Girl’s autograph values

707: Are sky! High!

707: right now

707: kaching!

MC: lol

Yoosung*: Wow…

Yoosung*: So you know something about Echo Girl that we don’t?

707: I… guess? Lolol I did the job a couple months ago so I don’t really remember though

Yoosung*: Tell me!! Secrets unknown to the public!

707: Hmm should I?

Yoosung*: *_*

MC: I mean… if you want?

707: Echo Girl’s real name is “Kyungju Choi”

Yoosung*: Oh come on, every fan knows that!

707: Hmm…

707: I’ll be breaking my contract if I say anything lol

Yoosung*: omg…

Yoosung*: What is it T_T

Yoosung*: Tell me!

707: Sorry…

707: I can’t spill the beans on an agency mission.

707: If they catch me, I might go to jail.

Yoosung*: ;;;

Yoosung*: Ja-jail…??

707: I’d be lucky to go to prison managed by the government.

707: Usually, you get dragged

707: to a place in the middle of nowhere…

707: and you never come back…

Yoosung*: Seven…

MC: lolololol

MC: boys, focus

707: lololol just kidding

Yoosung*: ;;;; so scary

707: don’t’ be scared little baby

MC: ><

MC: I’m just worried that Echo Girl will hurt Zen

MC: so as long as you didn’t see anything in your hacking related to that, it’s fine

707: Nah, it’s good

707: It’s nice that you’re worried though

707: Zen is lucky

Yoosung*: Meijeong worries about all of us lol

Yoosung*: She’s like a mom

MC: So, let’s talk about something other than Echo Girl

MC: Because I worry about you too, Seven

MC: and I’d hate to see you dragged off to the middle of nowhere never to return

MC: :P

707: lolololol no way that would ever happen

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: that’s too awful to think about

707: this is random but

707: do you like floppy disks?

Yoosung*: What’s that?

MC: I haven’t seen one in years…

MC: do hackers still use them for things?

707: lololol showing our ages now

Yoosung*: oooh~! Disket

Yoosung*: I’ve heard of them

Yoosung*: I think I’ve heard of it

Yoosung*: but everyone uses CDs these days

MC: lololol

MC: try flash drives

707: Even those are old news these days lol

Yoosung*: Yup… we live in the Cloud era now!!

MC: I kind of miss making mix tapes… only on CDs.

MC: MP3 players aren’t the same.

Yoosung*: awww that’s cute

707: lololol yep

MC: anyway, why did you bring up floppy disks?

Yoosung*: yeah, what about them?

707: I found an old one while I was cleaning 

Seven posted a picture. It was an old floppy disk, sitting on the pages of what seemed to be an old children’s book.

MC: ooh neat!

MC: That’s practically like finding a time capsule

MC: was there anything saved on it?

707: Hmmm

Yoosung*: I guess something you saved a long time ago?

707: Yeah

Yoosung*: Journal? Photos?

MC: It can’t have been too big a file

MC: Floppy disks only hold so much

707: hmmm…

Yoosung*: ?

707: Secret.

Yoosung*: -__-

MC: Seven you tease -__-

MC: lololol

707: +_+

707: hmmmhmmmhmmm

707: lololol

MC: :P

707: Anyways, looking at this

707: it reminded me of old times.

707: I was super interested in digital storage devices like this when I was little

Yoosung*: Whoah lolol

Yoosung*: I guess you were always interested in computers

707: Yeah, I guess

707: I was sad to see floppy discs disappear.

707: that strange square disc

707: It was really surprising when I first found out how it works…

707: I used to hide

707: this piece of plastic

707: so that I wouldn’t lose it lolol

MC: Did… someone give it to you?

MC: Someone special?

707: I didn’t get it as a gift

707: Did I steal it?

Yoosung*: !?!?

707: …Nevermind…

707: Was it a gift?

707: Did I buy it?

MC: Another secret?

707:

707: maybe

Yoosung*:

Yoosung*: maybe??

Yoosung*: you’re really strange sometimes Seven

707: hmmmmm…

707: Anyways

MC: Oh hey my phone is ringing

MC: my coworker is calling

MC: She never calls, always texts, so it must be important

MC: gotta go

MC has left the chatroom.

 

“Sun-mi, what’s up? Did something happen with your shift-?“

“Turn on the TV. ET Chanel, now,” she said, and hung up before Meijeong could react.

“Ummm… okay,” Meijeong said. Looking at her phone, she sighed, “Did you ask if I have a TV though? Noooo… of course not.” She went to the computer and tried to find a live stream of that channel. The video flickered, and then Echo Girl’s face filled the screen.

“I- I was so scared. Fame is a big temptation but still…” Her lips trembled and tear slipped out, not enough to affect her makeup, as she stared doe-eyed at the camera.

The view switched and the camera centered on the news anchor in a studio, speaking seriously from behind a desk.

“The actor Hyun Ryu, whose stage name is Zen, is fairly popular within the musical theater industry. It was reported last night that he called famous singer Echo Girl to his home and sexually harassed her, shocking the whole nation. This scoop was reported to Celebrity E! News by none other than Echo Girl herself. Echo Girl has immediately canceled her plans to go up on stage as the lead with the actor Zen, and plans to take a hiatus to cope with this horrible accident. Our reporters have interviewed Echo Girl herself.”

Meijeong watched, mouth agape in horror as the show switched back to prerecorded interview with Echo Girl. The celebrity sat primly in a chair, carefully dabbing at the corners of her eyes, and frowning pitifully. It was an act, and a bad one at that. But it didn’t matter.

“I went there because he told me there was something to discuss about the new musical…” Echo Girl took a deep breath, as if she had to force herself to relive the moment, “And… he kept forcing me into his house. He said he wanted to check whether or not my breasts were real…” She sniffed, and dabbed her eyes again.

The reporter, a young woman in a professional suit, watched Echo Girl’s performance seriously, “If you went to his home in the first place… weren’t you planning of entering?”

“Oh my god! No!” Echo Girl gasped, feigning horror, “I was going to talk with him in front of the gate. I’m still so young! How could I have ever imagined?” She clutched her hands to her chests, and sniffed, forcing out a few more fake tears.

The news show cut back to the first anchor at the desk, who turned to a man with over-styled blonde hair sitting at the desk one seat over. “Let’s see what Ryan Secret, our celebrity specialist, has to say about this matter.”

“Well, it’s obvious that Zen, still fairly unknown, approached Echo Girl with the scheme to gain from her immense popularity. I must say this fairly common in the entertainment industry,” He shook his head, frowning, and then pictures of Zen’s apartment suddenly appeared on screen next to him, “Looking at these photos, I can guess that he lives in a semi-basement room… He must be struggling financially. It is a sad reality that young people these days are struggling, but I must applaud Echo Girl with how bravely she is dealing with the situation.”

Both news anchors nodded seriously, perfectly clear in their disdain for Zen and support of Echo Girl. Meijeong almost turned it off right then, feeling sick to her stomach, but then-

“E! News has the next scoop. We’ve relieved a tip from one famous female singer concerning the young entrepreneur Jumin Han, the Chairman in line of C&R International. His amazing looks and management skills put him as the top bachelor, and yet, he has not had a single scandal with any woman. Isn’t that strange?”

Meijeong inhaled sharply and closed her eyes. The news kept coming, one horrible word after another.

“We’ve received a tip that C&R International’s director Jumin Han is gay. After this brave comment from this singer, we have been bombarded with several similar reports. This is a comment from a famous actress who’s requested to remain anonymous.”

“I don’t really care if it’s just me~,” Meijeong heard the voice, and her eyes snapped open.

“No fucking way,” she said. The news didn’t show the face, but she had heard enough news stories by now featuring this “famous actress” to recognizes it immediately. “Glam Choi!?”

“But I asked everyone I knew and they all seemed as if they expected it. I knew he had a secret. How else could he have remained so calm in front of my fabulous body?”

“Next up on-“ the news anchor moved on to some story about the casting of an upcoming film.

Meijeong turned off the computer. She stood up, picked up her phone, and sat down on the couch. With her knees bent up against her chest, she tucked a lose bit of hair behind her ear and held her phone cradled between her palms, staring at the blank black screen. Waiting.

It didn’t take long. The screen lit up, alerts from messages and the RFA chat.

 

707: !?!?!?!?!?!?!?

707: Did you guys see the news!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

MC: omg

MC: oh my god

ZEN: Ha….

ZEN: hahahahahaha…

707: \\/\\/\/\\/

707: R u doin ok…?

MC: Zen!!

MC: Are you okay!?

ZEN: What am I going to do… haha

707: I’m seriously worried Zen;;

MC: This is… so much worse that I could have imagined

ZEN: ……….

ZEN: What do I do?

ZEN: I can’t even get mad about this.

ZEN: I feel like…

ZEN: the world just ended…

707: I was just hacking into people’s social media,

707: and I was surprised to see people mentioning your name a lot.

707: So I scanned everything

707: And this is…

707: your reputation…

707: T_T

707: ;; >_< ;;

MC: Let’s just… calm down.

MC: Myself included… heh

MC: Don’t let Echo Girl get to you

MC: It’s what she wants, to make you feel helpless

MC: We can figure this out

ZEN: Okay…

ZEN: Yeah… I should…

ZEN: I’m embarrassed to say this,

ZEN: but I’m too scared to go outside.

MC: Zen

707: Zen…

MC: I’m so sorry

707: ;; >_< ;;

707: I don’t really know

707: how to solve this though…….;;

ZEN: I can’t think of anything.

MC: I… I don’t know.

ZEN:

ZEN: Someone, please tell me this is a dream…

ZEN: My house was in the news ahahahahhaha

ZEN: Just tell me this is a dream hahahahaha

MC: Zen, we’ll think of something, okay?

MC: Echo Girl’s the one who did something wrong

MC: Lying about something like this…

MC: She’s trash,

MC: Lower than trash

MC: Because lying like this makes things worse for actual victims of assault

MC: We’ll find a way to make people see the truth

MC: so in the meantime…

MC: Don’t let it get to you, okay?

ZEN: Thanks for saying Meijeong…

ZEN: But…

ZEN: I think it’s kind of my fault too.

707: Don’t blame urself

MC: Zen, you’re the victim here

MC: Don’t you dare let that monster make you think otherwise

707: Let’s figure out what exactly is going on first.

707: Zen…

707: Why was Echo Girl in front of ur house? And at night???

707: And who took the photos?

ZEN: She came to my house and tried to seduce me.

ZEN: I said no, and called her manager to come take her home.

ZEN: The manager is the one who took the photo.

707: omg… it’s the manager

ZEN: The manager just said that she needed a photo to prove to her boss that Echo Girl missed practice…

ZEN: Echo Girl looked terrified when she was leaving…

ZEN: I had no idea she’d use it like this…

MC: I don’t think Echo Girl is smart enough to have planned this right then and then

MC: But when she saw the photo later, and saw how terrified she looked in it…

707: ya

707: bet u the manager or the boss said something like

707: you look upset, what’d that guy do to you

MC: exactly

MC: I’m so mad

MC: But I know this is so much worse for you Zen…

ZEN: I really… don’t know how to feel anything right now

ZEN: But thank you for being here for me

707: Gahhh Echo Girl T_T

707: My friend Tom loves her…

707: Can’t believe she’s such scum!!!

707: XuX !?

ZEN: Why do I hate myself right now?

707: Pls don’t blame urself.

MC: Zen…

ZEN: I don’t regret sending her back,

ZEN: but I wanted to be up on stage with her even with my injured ankle…

ZEN: I regret being so selfish.

MC: Zen

MC: You did nothing wrong…

MC: No actor would have turned down an opportunity like that.

MC: You know that

MC: Please don’t blame yourself

MC: that’s exactly what Echo Girl wants

707: T_T She’s right

707: 99.9% of musical actors who want to succeed

707: would not have refused that opportunity…

ZEN: …I can’t believe I’m part of 99.9%

707: It’s not a crime to be normal

707: Seriously.

707: Just listen to what Meijeong’s saying lolol

ZEN: … Okay

707: Cheer up!!

707: It’s E! News

707: They say things that don’t even have evidence.

707: I’m sure it’ll be forgotten in the next couple of days;;

ZEN: Now if you search my name online, this will be the number one thing that pops up.

MC: god…

MC: there’s gotta be something though…

707: ;; >_< ;;

707: You can explain.

MC: For something like this… sexual assault…

MC: People might now want to listen.

MC: Not without some kind of hard evidence

ZEN: I’m just a lowly newbie actor. I can’t beat something like that.

ZEN: Reputation is everything to me…

ZEN: God…

ZEN: I guess I’ll have less fans now

ZEN: I might not even be able to go up on stage at all…

MC: Don’t say that.

MC: Zen…

MC: This is a really bad situation, and you’re bound to feel really emotional right now.

MC: So first let’s just…

MC: try to calm down.

MC: And then all of us, together, we’ll come up with come kind of solution.

707: Yeah!

707: Absolutely right!!

ZEN:

ZEN: I do think I need some time alone.

707: Yeah.

707: Zen…

707: I don’t know if this will comfort you,

707: but whatever happens,

707: RFA will always be the same!

MC: Seven’s right.

MC: We’re all here for you, no matter what.

ZEN: Okay. Thanks for saying that.

ZEN: I… I should go get some rest.

MC: Take care of yourself

707: Don’t be so depressed alright!?

ZEN: Yeah… okay.

MC: Tell us if something happens, okay?

MC: You can always call if you need anything.

ZEN: Thanks…

ZEN: The only reason I’m sane right now

ZEN: is because I have the RFA

ZEN: I’ll be off…!

ZEN has left the chatroom.

707: Gahh~~ Isn’t there anything I can help with?

MC: I know what you mean… I feel helpless too.

MC: I’m glad you were here too though.

MC: helping cheer on Zen when a bombshell like this dropped

MC: was a lot easier with you here.

707: gah

707: you too

707: ;; >_< ::

MC: I suppose hacking the entire internet to erase every trace of Echo Girl’s evidence and that new story is beyond the power of even the mighty God Seven?

707: T_T

707: ya

707: besides, I can’t hack people’s brain and memories either

MC: And the news will eat a story like this up

MC: especially with the #MeToo movement trending worldwide

MC: they’d love a chance to destroy a no name actor instead of some beloved established celebrity

MC: make it seem like they actually give a damn

MC: >_<

MC: ugh

707: T_T
707: Ya. I think so too

707: If she had paid to get the story published

707: it wouldn’t be so hard to solve the problem.

707: Since money always loses to more money…

MC: Jumin, at least, could buy his way out of it.

MC: Zen wouldn’t be able to

MC: God…

MC: Is there anything we can do?

707: You must be really upset but don’t worry…

707: No matter what happens, if we work together, RFA can solve everything!!

707: Hmm…

707: I have some place I have to contact, I have to go…

MC: okay…

MC: make sure you’re taking care of yourself too Seven

MC: I know you

MC: And I know you’ll push yourself to overdrive to take care of every problem

707: lolololol

707: that’s my job tho

707: Agent of Justice 707, protector of the world of light

707: And Zen should stand bright in the glittering spotlight

MC: right, well, just make sure you eat something other than chips

MC: and get a few hours of sleep every day

MC: okay?

707: lolol

707: I sleep when I need to

707: So don’t worry

707: It’s important to me that things work out for Zen lol

707: I’ll get going!

MC: Fine

MC: But let me know if I can help with anything

MC: or if you need me to do anything for you

707: you should focus on Zen

707: and not worry about me

707: but thanks

707: bye bye

MC: byyee!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Meijeong stared blankly at the wall in front of her. Briefly, she debated calling Zen, to check on him, but she didn’t see how it would help. She fought down the urge to call Seven- he needed to focus, and she would just be a distraction. It was the middle of the night. Right now… there wasn’t anything she could do that would help. 

“Holy shit…”

 

Chapter Text

Turn off the alarm. Make bed. Email the cat charity back. Brush her hair. Leggings. Shorts. An oversized sweater. Pack a sandwich and… cheese and apple slices. Oatmeal and tea for breakfast. Don’t forget to call the owner of the golf clothing company during lunch.

Meijeong’s morning felt mechanical. She was sick with worry about Zen, and she kept the chatroom open as she went through her routine, talking with the others, hoping someone had good news. As the conversation went on, first just with Jaehee, then adding in Zen and Jumin, she picked at her oatmeal halfheartedly, scooting the raspberries and peach slices she had tossed in for flavor around.

 

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong… Hello

MC: Hey Jaehee…

MC: I couldn’t sleep.

MC: I’m worried about Zen…

Jaehee Kang: I’m worried too. He seemed very depressed, naturally so.

Jaehee Kang: Of course… I’m sort of not in the place to worry about Zen.

Jaehee Kang: Thanks to the gossip piece about Mr. Han.

Jaehee Kang: my phone has been ringing nonstop //;;;;

Jaehee Kang: All people from tabloid news, celebrity magazines, entertainment news… and such.

MC: Ugh…

MC: That’s awful

Jaehee Kang: They all want a comment from Mr. Han or an interview with me.

Jaehee Kang: Perhaps it is best for Mr. Han to not respond to any of this…

Jaehee Kang: The minute he does respond, things will blow out of proportion.

MC: Yeah, you’re probably right about that.

MC: With Jumin, this will probably blow over if he just ignores it.

MC: He’s a corporate heir of a powerful company

MC: The news will get bored and he’ll move on

MC: but Zen…

MC: He’s just an up and coming actor. I’m worried.

Jaehee Kang: Yes.

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han is not in the entertainment industry and he already has several strange rumors circulating around him, so he does not take it personally.

Jaehee Kang: But in the case of Zen…

Jaehee Kang: I’m sure young fans will be very shocked by this piece of news.

Jaehee Kang: I’ve been checking what people are saying about him online… and the media isn’t really on his side.

Jaehee Kang: Since Echo Girl is actively trying to ruin his reputation;;

Jaehee Kang: She is playing the victim on her social media site.

MC: Ugh

MC: That’s disgusting

MC: I can’t believe she’d stoop so low

Jaehee Kang: Indeed;;

Jaehee Kang: People would realize that this doesn’t make any sense if they just give it a thought,

Jaehee Kang: It’s very unfortunate to see people trusting her words simply because she’s famous…

MC: It makes me so furious

MC: It’s so unfair…

MC: Zen did nothing wrong…

MC: And think about all the real victims this might discredit

Jaehee Kang: I suppose there’s nothing you can do about the public…

MC: yeah…

Jaehee Kang: Echo Girl went to Zen’s house by herself in the middle of the night.

Jaehee Kang: I can’t believe no one is suspecting her.

MC: It’s not as popular to be the one to call out a victim these days

MC: Especially a famous one like Echo Girl, when she’s accusing a ‘nobody’

MC: media has nothing to gain by protecting him

MC: fuck

Jaehee Kang: This is so upsetting /// ;;;

Jaehee Kang: He is an actor who’s received no help from even his family while growing his career.

Jaehee Kang: He has always been an idol to me.

Jaehee Kang: His acting always bursts out inexplicable energy…

Jaehee Kang: At times, it seemed as if he was screaming to the world that he wants to keep on living…

Jaehee Kang: Even when he acted being nice, being sad, I felt that energy he gave,

MC: He always worked hard and never relied on anyone else.

MC: There’s so much to learn from him…!

MC: I just wish other people could see that right now

Jaehee Kang: Yes, you are completely right.

Jaehee Kang: I’ve always admired how he had the energy to carve his own path even in such situations.

Jaehee Kang: I feel happy when I witness that energy even after a hard day…

Jaehee Kang: I hope for Zen to continue acting…

Jaehee Kang: I hope

Jaehee Kang: Zen succeeds,

Jaehee Kang: but it’s sad…

Jaehee Kang: Since no matter how much I think, I can’t come up with a solution.

Jaehee Kang: I don’t know how Zen’s fans will react to this incident.

MC: Don’t give up

MC: We’ll think of something

MC: We have to.

ZEN has entered the chatroom.

Jumin Han has entered the chatroom.

ZEN: Hey Meijeong…

Jaehee Kang: Hello Zen…

ZEN: Hey Jaehee

ZEN: I was a mess, right? T_T//;;;

MC: Zen, how are you feeling?

ZEN: Better than before…

ZEN: Of course, I still don’t know what to do haha

ZEN: Thanks for worrying.

MC: How about you Jumin?

MC: You all right?

Jumin Han: There’s no reason to worry about me.

Jumin Han: I don’t react to false rumors.

Jumin Han: That’s a rule my father taught me.

ZEN: Well, everyone else is going crazy

ZEN: and you’re the only one not responding.

ZEN: Do you think that’s okay?

Jumin Han: As Assistant Kang said, it’s best for me not to respond.

Jaehee Kang: Yes

Jaehee Kang: Though people won’t stop calling for interviews and answers either way T_T;;

ZEN: Yeah… I guess that might be better for you.

ZEN: The media isn’t really persistent towards corporate people… Maybe that will work…

ZEN: Of course, I’m not really in the position to worry about you…

ZEN: Just how many celebrities asked you out and got rejected…?

ZEN: Do you even know how many female celebrities talked about you?

MC: Zen…

MC: you’re not searching yourself online, are you?

ZEN: Well…

ZEN: that’s;;;

Jaehee Kang: Zen…

Jaehee Kang: I hope you try your best to stay away from the internet…

MC: Yeah

MC: You’re just torturing yourself by doing that;;

Jumin Han: I’m sure there are bad rumors about you circulating online.

Jumin Han: It’s pathetic that people are wasting their time on social media.

Jumin Han: Isn’t it better to use your time on more productive things

Jumin Han: rather than staring at the monitor to see what other people are thinking?

Jaehee Kang: Yes

Jaehee Kang: Searching social media will only lead to depressing thoughts

ZEN: That is true but

ZEN: I just can’t help but think about the fact that people are hating on me right now…;;

ZEN: It doesn’t even occur to me be productive…

ZEN: I’m not like you!

MC: Zen…

MC: I know you’re feeling really sensitive to all this but…

MC: try and find something to distract yourself

MC: you’ll only make yourself feel worse

Jaehee Kang: Meijeong is right

ZEN: heh…

ZEN: I’m actually pretty fragile inside…

Jumin Han: If you have time to be fragile

Jumin Han: just use that time to improve yourself, like you always did.

ZEN: T_T///

ZEN: That’s…

ZEN: Even if I try rehearsing or working out like I used to…

ZEN: if no one’s going to hire me as an actor,

ZEN: it’s all useless…

MC: Zen it’s not useless

MC: We’ll fix this!

Jaehee Kang:

Jumin Han: I didn’t know you were so quick to give up.

ZEN: It’s embarrassing to say this…

ZEN: but aside from giving up and whatnot,

ZEN: I’m even afraid to go outside right now…

Jaehee Kang: Are there still reporters and fans outside?

Jaehee Kang: Perhaps C&R can spare some security guards for the time being

ZEN: it’s not that…

Jumin Han: You think your career will end just because of this one rumor?

Jumin Han: Was your career that fragile in the first place?

MC: of course not!

ZEN:

ZEN: oh damn it.

ZEN: Yeah.

ZEN: My career is nothing.

ZEN: It’s all because of my looks.

ZEN: People go crazy

ZEN: over scandalous lines, gestures, things like that

ZEN: and my company treats me like I’m a product.

ZEN: My popularity, my career?

ZEN: If my reputation doesn’t back them up,

ZEN: they’re like glass pieces that will shatter away.

MC: Zen, don’t say that!

MC: That’s not true.

ZEN: This is just so unfair

ZEN: I feel like no one recognizes my efforts… I’m so mad.

ZEN: I’ve put my body and soul into acting, for years!

ZEN: I wanted to be recognized as an actor.

ZEN: To my fans, to the director…

ZEN: and at first to my family…

ZEN: But…

ZEN: Look at the internet,

ZEN: I was just a musical actor

ZEN: who was floating on top of a small bubble.

ZEN: Now, it’s the time for that bubble to pop.

Jaehee Kang: I don’t think your popularity was just because of your looks

Jaehee Kang: But I can’t deny that I don’t see any way to fix this

Jaehee Kang: An actor’s reputation, once damaged…

Jumin Han: Hmm.

MC: Don’t think like that

MC: We haven’t had time to think yet

MC: But we’ll figure something out

MC: I know it.

ZEN: Jumin you’re lucky.

ZEN: You have the emotional capacity to remain calm right now.

ZEN: of course.

ZEN: You have your dad and your money to back you up.

MC: This isn’t so black and white…

MC: You have your talent to back you up.

MC: You have the RFA, you have us to back you up

Jaehee Kang: Still… for an actor…

Jaehee Kang:

ZEN: My talent…

ZEN: If I was really talented… shouldn’t I be really famous right now?

ZEN: Sorry… but I have to go.

ZEN: I’m so sorry you guys have to see me like this

Jumin Han: So you just talk about yourself and leave?

ZEN:

ZEN: Do you know I hate the fact that you can calm, Jumin?

ZEN: You didn’t do anything wrong, but I can’t help but I hate you…

ZEN: Honestly… I’m jealous that you can afford to be so confident.

ZEN: I promised that I wouldn’t be like this towards you anymore…

ZEN: Damn…

MC: You’re just going through a rough time.

MC: Go try and relax

MC: Find something to help you get yourself back together mentally

MC: We’ll figure this out

ZEN: Yeah… I should.

ZEN: I don’t think I’m in my right mind right now.

ZEN: I’ll get going.

ZEN has left the chatroom.

Jumin Han: Hmm.

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

MC: You’re worried right…?

MC: Me too.

Jumin Han: I don’t wish to waste my emotions,

Jumin Han: but I am curious.

Jumin Han: Is there a need to get so serious?

Jumin Han: It’s just a rumor.

Jaehee Kang: Considering Zen’s job… it can be quite damaging.

Jaehee Kang: Personally…

Jaehee Kang: I don’t see a way his career can possibly recover from this;;

MC: Don’t say that!

MC: Zen’s dream is to be an actor.

MC: We can’t let him give up on his dream just because of Echo Girl

MC: ARGH

MC: I’m so furious

MC: I can’t believe someone would do something so horrible.

Jaehee Kang: It’s a sad reality

Jaehee Kang: that someone with her power and influence could all to easily crush the dreams of a lowly actor like Zen

Jumin Han: I see.

Jumin Han: So right now… his dream is in jeopardy?

Jumin Han: I understand.

Jumin Han: Oh…

Jumin Han: Elizabeth is crying

Jumin Han: I should go see what she wants

Jumin Han: I have to get going.

MC: Tell her I said hi…

MC: Good luck at work today

Jaehee Kang: I should go prepare for the day…

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

Jaehee Kang: I’m sure I’ll be answering phone calls the whole time

Jumin Han: Yes… well, goodbye

MC: later!

Jaehee Kang: goodbye…

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

Sighing, Meijeong ran her hand through her hair, pushing it back. It felt a little unreal that she was so close to another public scandal again, but unlike the problems with Jumin’s father, Sarah, and Glam Choi, for which she felt an almost comical sort of detachment, the situation with Zen and Echo Girl left a festering anger in her. Meijeong considered herself a feminist. She supported the #MeToo movement, and she was the first to defend a victim who came forward and accused someone of sexual assault, male or female. To watch as someone manipulated the trust of millions of people like her, all for petty revenge, made her sick. The fact that it was being done to hurt a close friend made it even more personal. The more she thought about it, the angrier she became.

But getting angry wasn’t going to help Zen when for now, all she could do was be supportive. Taking another deep breath, she forced down the rest of her breakfast and gathered the rest of her things before heading to work.

She was grateful for Aslan, the ginger bookstore tabby cat that day. Perhaps he sensed her distress, or perhaps he had issues of his own that he needed addressed, but he seemed to be particularly intent on keeping by Meijeong’s side for that morning. His meowing and rubbing across her legs was a welcome distraction. His particularly playful and kittenish antics that day even managed to distract some of her more trying customers while she got work done. Though it did occasionally become a problem.

“Hey, scoot you,“ Meijeong said, picking up the overly affectionate cat as he wound his way between her and the cash register again during a sale and setting him on the ground, “Sorry about that. Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?”

After seeing the customer out the door, Meijeong attempted to brush the orange cat hair off her apron in vain. “You’re lucky you’re cute, because you’re being a pain in the butt,” she said, not meaning it. “Thanks for distracting me,” she added.

Aslan simply meowed and rubbed himself against her legs again. With a sigh and smile, Meijeong scratched between his ears. Straightening up, she tucked her hair behind her ear and went to ask the woman in the cook book section if she needed any assistance.

During her lunch break, Meijeong called Zen. She wasn’t sure what she expected to hear, but she wanted to at least check in on him.

“Hey…” Zen answered, sounding drained. Like he had all the life sucked out of him.

“Zen, hey,” said Meijeong, “I don’t have a lot of time, but… I wanted to check on you…”

“Heh… I don’t deserve to talk to anyone, but… thanks,” Zen said, “I’m glad you called… I had no idea this would happen… I never imagined…”

“You’d have to be crazy to imagine think something like this would happen,” Meijeong said soothingly, “Don’t loose hope. We’ll figure this out.”

“Man…” Zen groaned, “I’m so sorry I sound so depressed.”

Meijeong chuckled. “It’s better than pretending you’re fine. It’s okay.”

“Do you really think so? This is…” Zen sighed, “This is really hard. I have no idea how in the world things ended up like this. Since when did things start to take the wrong turn? Did it all start when I was tempted by a huge opportunity that wasn’t really meant for me? Was I being too greedy? Was it really that out of my reach?”

“Of course not Zen!” Meijeong said, “Don’t blame yourself for this. You did nothing wrong.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything now.”

“I would have had a hard time, too. It’s not your fault,” Meijeong bit her lip, trying to remain calm for his sake. “This is all Echo Girl’s fault.”

“Thanks for telling me that when I’m so pathetic…” Zen said, “Sorry I was too occupied with myself. What about you? How are you doing? You can tell me anything right now. You’ve seen the embarrassing sides of me.”

Meijeong laughed, and in a pleasant surprise, Zen laughed too.

“I mean, I’m just at worked,” Meijeong said, “There’s nothing too exciting going on right now. I’m covered in cat hair though.”

“Ugh! Really? Ugh, babe! Why?”

“The bookstore’s cat was being really needy today,” Meijeong said, “It was actually really nice. He’s not normally that affectionate.”

“Ughhh…” Zen said, “It’s making my nose itch. Let’s not talk about cats.”

“True, but you’re distracted, right?” Meijeong teased.

“Aghh… you’re right. Cats… ugh,” Zen sniffed, “Still, I’d rather distract myself with something else.”

“Well, unfortunately,” Meijeong laughed, “I have to get back to work. And the cat.”

“Ugh… alright,” Zen said, “Thanks for checking in on me. Even if I don’t deserve it right now…”

“You do deserve it, Zen,” Meijeong said seriously, “You’re my friend.”

“Thanks…” Zen replied half-heartedly, “Alright… bye then.”

“Bye.”

Meijeong hung up the phone. Her heart ached for Zen. He still seemed to blame himself for how things had turned out, and more than anything, that was what made her so angry. She tossed the rest of her lunch in the trash and went back to the floor.

Things remained relatively peaceful until Sun-mi arrived after school.

“Mei! Oh my god, oh my god!” Sun-mi said as she burst in the shop door, “I’ve been waiting all day to talk to you!”

“Eh-hem,” Meijeong coughed, and made a face, nodding at the line of customers meaningfully.

Sun-mi took the hint and thankfully, clammed up, but her body language still buzzed with energy and questions as she took her belongings to the back and put on her own apron to help. The teenage girl’s hands practically shook as she bagged the customer’s purchases, and Meijeong could almost swear she felt the air around her vibrating. Aslan, her morning-time savior, seemed to sense it too, and determined the energy surge was too much for his lazy, royal sensibilities. He promptly minced off to his favorite sunlit spot in the store’s front window for a nap.

It was another hour before the store emptied out for a moment, and Sun-mi was able to unleash a tidal wave of suppressed chatter and questions.

“Oh my god,” she began, “Oh. My. God. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe we were all fooled by such a pretty face. I feel so betrayed!” Sun-mi shook her head and growled, pacing back and forth, “Argh!”

“I know, I know…” Meijeong said, taking a deep breath. “It’s pretty crazy.”

“Right!” Sun-mi shouted. “I just can’t believe any of this! I was so shocked when I saw the news last night. It was all anyone was talking about at school today too.”

“Yeah, the media is going crazy,” Meijeong sighed, “Which is what she wanted, of course. I knew Echo Girl wasn’t happy about Zen turning her down but I didn’t think she go this-“

“Wait-“ Sun-mi whirled around, staring at Meijeong with her jaw dropped, “What Echo Girl wanted?

“Uh… yeah?” Meijeong said, frowning. “Zen didn’t do anything. Echo Girl just-“

“Are you serious right now?” said Sun-mi, her eyes wide. She frowned, staring horrified at Meijeong, “You’re seriously taking his side in this?”

“Yes,” Meijeong replied, keeping her tone even. “Echo Girl is making it up for revenge, because he wouldn’t, well, because he wouldn’t do anything with her. He turned her down, and she got mad.”

“And you believe that?” Sun-mi laughed, “Seriously? He’s a guy.”

“Guys can be victims too!” Meijeong snarled now, “Or are you just going to believe the famous celebrity because she’s more well known like all the other idiots watching E!News?” In the back of her head, a tiny voice whispered that she shouldn’t be getting so angry. But all her frustrations suddenly came rushing out.

“Echo Girl went to his house in the middle of the night, trying to seduce him, and when he sent her home, telling her he wasn’t interested, she flipped out and made up all these lies about him as revenge!” Meijeong continued, stepping towards Sun-mi angrily. “But he’s a guy, so of course, he’s got to be the one at fault, right? Fuck that!”

Meijeong yelled the curse out loudly, right as the bell above bookstore door chimed out. She flinched and froze.

“Sounds like things are going well,” said a familiar voice, and Meijeong exhaled hard.

“Subin, hey,” Meijeong said without turning around. Instead, Meijeong looked at Sun-mi, who glared at her with silent anger and just the tiniest bit of fear, and sighed. She rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“This have anything to do with your actor friend being all over the news?” Subin asked, crossing across the front of the store to pet Aslan. The cat still slept peacefully in the window, but he stretched a bit to lean into Subin’s gentle scratches.

“Yeah,” said Meijeong. “Unfortunately.”

“Meijeong actually believes him when he says he didn’t do anything,” Sun-mi laughs harshly, “Can you believe that? Like a guy would ever even admit-“

“Well, did he?” Subin said, and this time, Meijeong sighed with relief.

“No,” Meijeong said, leaning back against the counter. She fixed her hair. “Echo Girl is making it all up to get back at him for turning her down. She’s also responsible for the rumors about that corporate heir, Jumin Han, being gay. The ones that E!News brought up immediately after the sexual assault accusations. Same problem- he turned her down. But they’re both RFA members, and she’s taking revenge on the whole group at once.”

“Huh,” Subin nodded, “The timing does make things interesting. And it certainly lines up with everything I’ve ever heard about Echo Girl’s character, though she’s never gone this extreme before.”

“But still…” Sun-mi began, but much more cautiously now, “The odds of someone making up allegations are so low…”

“Normally, you’d be right,” said Subin, “But you have to look at the whole situation. The whole thing is suspicious from the start. And I trust Meijeong’s judgment. Don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but-“

“So trust the person you know, rather than social media and news outlets,” said Subin. “Especially when the situation involves this much hearsay and suspicious circumstances." 

“Thanks,” Meijeong said.

Subin smiled. “Hey, I have to stop in on an old professor. I just stopped to grab some books to run over for my uncle while I was doing that. But I should be done by the time you’re done with work,” Subin said, “Want to go get coffee at that little place between here an your apartment then?”

“Yeah...” Meijeong smiled, “Yeah, that’d be great. Thanks.”

“No problem,” said Subin. “See you then.” She waved over her shoulder as she went out the door, leaving nothing but the tinkling of the doorbell and an awkward silence.

Meijeong sighed again, for what had to have been the thousandth time that day. She picked up a stack of books and started stocking them, with Sun-mi silently going behind the register to check the supplies there. For a while, the silence hung in the air like stale dust.

Eventually, Sun-mi was the one to speak up, as she paused to pet Aslan. “So that Jumin Han guy is part of that fundraiser organization with you guys too?” She lifted up Aslan and scratched his ears, carrying him with her to the counter.

“Mhmm…” Meijeong hummed. “Yeah. The funny thing is, I actually met Echo Girl too, at one of Zen’s shows, months ago.”

“Yeah?” Sun-mi’s voice piqued curiously.

“Yeah. She actually asked about the RFA then and everything,” Meijeong came back to the counter and leaned back next to Sun-mi. “I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming... and now I don’t know how to help Zen get out of this mess." 

“You’ll figure something out,” said Sun-mi, setting Aslan down. Customers had just walked in the door. “You’re one of the most brilliant, helpful people I know.”

“Thanks,” Meijeong said quickly, before putting on her best customer service smile, “Hello, welcome to Park’s Bookshop how can I help you?" 

 

 

After work, Meijeong headed over to the café. She was going to be a little earlier than she planned, but it was fine. A little bit of quiet time wasn’t unwelcome.

It occurred to her, as she carried her drink to the couch chairs by the window, that this wouldn’t be the first time that Meijeong had talked through hard things with Subin in these seats. Meijeong remembered months ago, sitting in this same coffee shop with Subin, sipping a latte and wondering if she had made the right decision agreeing to join the RFA. Now, the RFA and its members were so important to her life that she couldn’t imagine a world without them. They had become like a second family to her.

Taking a sip of her chai tea latte, she dug out her phone and opened the app.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: Oh hey Jumin

Jumin Han: Hello Meijeong

Jumin Han: I was wondering if someone else would show up

MC: Yeah

MC: I was busy with work

Jumin Han: I was also quite busy

Jumin Han: but I decided to take a short break

MC: I assume Jaehee is still swamped with phone calls

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang has been fielding calls from the press most of the day, yes

MC: T_T

Jumin Han: It’s quite frustrating

Jumin Han: It’s completely keeping her from her other work

Jumin Han: And all over petty revenge

MC: Yeah…

MC: sigh

MC: This really isn’t going away anytime soon

Jumin Han: unfortunately

Jumin Han: That seems to be the case

MC: I almost don’t want to say this because I’m afraid it’ll make Zen feel worse…

MC: T_T

MC: My coworker came in and basically accused Zen of being a horrible person

MC: And me of being a horrible person by association

MC: And for defending him

Jumin Han: This is the young girl you work with?

MC: Yeah ;;;

Jumin Han: Assistant Kang did say that younger fans might prove to be particularly affected by the news

MC: She definitely was

MC: Thankfully, my friend Subin showed up and managed to calm her down

MC: She believed me, at least

MC: About Zen

Jumin Han: That’s good to hear

Jumin Han: Perhaps Zen’s fragile emotional state will be strengthened by knowing that some people still listen to reason

MC: Yeah… I don’t think it’s enough for just my best friend to believe us, heh

MC: I’m just glad that she trusts me

MC: And trusts my judgment

MC: I have a feeling that’s not going to be the case with other people though

Jumin Han: Since we’re talking about trust,

Jumin Han: the only things that I deem are reliable

Jumin Han: are cats, cash… and that’s pretty much it.

MC: really? That’s it? lol

MC: I’m not laughing at you

MC: but that seems pretty cynical, even for you Jumin

Jumin Han: Well…

Jumin Han: Also…

Jumin Han: I never thought I’d say this, since I do not like my father,

Jumin Han: and especially not after everything that happened with his most recent relationship,

Jumin Han: but I also trust family.

MC: ^^

MC: That’s a nice thought.

Jumin Han: Thank you for thinking so.

Jumin Han: Since my company is a family business,

Jumin Han: there’s no point in my work if I don’t trust my family.

MC: I’m really glad you can say that, after everything that’s happened ^_^

MC: I think it’s just important to remember that family means different things for everyone

MC: Zen was talking about his family again… I think because he’s so depressed.

MC: I feel bad that Zen is so cut off from his family with everything that’s going on.

MC: I didn’t know that he was a runaway or about his issues with his brother until recently.

MC: but I wish he didn’t have to deal with those complicated feelings on top of everything else

Jumin Han: I don’t care too much about his family history, but

Jumin Han: He grew up on his own since middle school, so I’m sure his story is complicated.

Jumin Han: Now that he’s an adult, I suggest he try to repair his relationship with them.

MC: I mean…

MC: You’re not wrong but…

MC: Is right now the time for that?

MC: There’s so much else going on

MC: And he has a lot of pain and issues to work through with them

Jumin Han: Family is family whether you like it or not.

Jumin Han: Running away all the time is a foolish decision.

Jumin Han: Now that he is an adult,

Jumin Han: shouldn’t he stop running away and compromise a bit

Jumin Han: to build a relationship where he can ask for help when he’s at a low point?

Jumin Han: I may seem nosy

Jumin Han: but saying this in his best interests, for once.

MC: What’s up with you? lolol

Jumin Han: I may not look it

Jumin Han: but I’m actually a good person. *~

MC: I mean, I know, but still…

Jumin Han: I do care about the members of the RFA that V and Rika created.

Jumin Han: But…

Jumin Han: I hope this all blows over quickly so we can talk about something else again soon.

MC: lol me too

MC: but I’m not too optimistic, unfortunately

MC: We can take a break and talk about something else, if you want

MC: What did you want to talk about?

Jumin Han: I want to take photos of Elizabeth the 3rd walking

Jumin Han: but the camera keeps shaking.

Jumin posted a photo of what Meijeong figured was Elizabeth the 3rd. It was certainly Jumin’s apartment pictured, and the streak across the middle of the image was white and fluffy but…

MC: lololol oh my

MC: an elegant white blur

Jumin Han: Also, she seems to be putting on weight these days.

Jumin Han: I hope this situation gets dealt with

Jumin Han: so we can talk about Elizabeth the 3rd more.

Jumin Han: But

Jumin Han: I must get going.

MC: Alright, bye Jumin

Jumin Han: Goodbye

Jumin Han has left the chatroom.

 

“Hey, checking in with your boys?” Meijeong looked up and saw Subin.

“They’re not my boys, or even all boys for that matter,” Meijeong said, laughing, “But yeah. No earth shattering updates.” She set her phone aside and gestured towards the empty seat.

“That’s good,” Subin nodded, “Let me grab a drink and you can give me the details.”

It was a relief to be able to talk about it all with someone who both believed her without question and also didn’t have a personal stake in the matter. Meijeong didn’t realize how much she was filtering her own panic and worries about the situation until she spilled them all out for Subin. She didn’t have to optimistic or supportive for her, she could just talk, and that alone took a huge weight off of her chest.

“So basically,” Subin said, two cups of coffee later, “Unless you find a solid, reliable way to completely discredit Echo Girl and convince news and social media to spread it, Zen’s career is over.”

“Yeah,” Meijeong sighed, “And I don’t even know how to begin doing that.”

“It’s not impossible…” Subin looked thoughtful, “She certainly has made enemies in the entertainment world, if you know where to look. Plenty that would speak against her character.”

“Sure, but would any of them being willing to do so just for some low-level stage actor?” Meijeong said.

“Probably not.” Subin admitted.

“That’s the problem. Zen has the RFA, but he doesn’t has the entertainment industry clout that Echo Girl does. And even then, it still becomes he said she said.” Meijeong leaned back into the couch chair. “Unless Seven can find something…”

“You know it’s pretty weird that you’re friend with what is probably a black-hat hacker relies on code names, right?” Subin grinned.

“Life is weird,” Meijeong groaned. “And Seven is employed by someone, even if he’s vague on the details, so he’s technically mostly white-hat. I think.” She laughed. “I try not to worry about that too much.”

“Because you like him,” Subin teased.

“Maybe…” Meijeong admitted, looking out the window at the gathering dark. Her voice grew soft, and she sighed. “It’s hard to say. I barely know him, when you get down to it.”

“Well, I can’t say I approve, but…” Subin sipped her coffee, “It’s not like I know enough about the situation either. It sounds like you’re not being an idiot, and I can tell this isn’t like those guys in the past.”

“You mean the ones I would throw myself into short term flings with just to feel something?” Meijeong joked darkly, but Subin was serious.

“Yeah, those ones,” Subin rolled her eyes, then smiled, “I’m glad you’re done with those ones.”

“Me too,” said Meijeong. She realized she had subconsciously touched scars, and changed the subject. “Well, thanks for letting me vent. I really needed it.”

“No problem,” Subin said, “I’m glad I was able to get the real story about this whole Echo Girl mess from you. It’s a shame…” Subin frowned. “I’ll poke around with some of my old contacts in the industry around here, the ones I know have worked with Echo Girl. I don’t know if they’ll find anything but…”

“Thanks,” Meijeong smiled. “You’re the best.”

“Yeah, I know,” Subin laughed, “But I have to get going. Still have more errands to run.”

“Alright,” Meijeong said, “Let me know when you’re free. I have a feeling we might need a night of drinking before this is all over.”

“Damn right. See ya.”

“Bye.”

 

 

 

 

Yoosung* has entered the chatroom.

707 has entered the chatroom.

MC: hiya!!

707: hiya hey hey

Yoosung*: hey Seven, Meijeong

MC: how fares God Seven this evening?

707: T_T ;;///

707: so tired;;;

MC: me too

Yoosung*: me three

MC: I just finished cleaning up my dinner

MC: Did you guys eat?

Yoosung*: Ya

707: honey buddha chips

707: and dr. pepper

MC: T_T

MC: Seven…

MC: I hope you at least had something healthy today

707: No time

707: Got to get this agency work done

707: And find something on Echo Girl to help Zen

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: I can’t believe all of this is happening

Yoosung*: Echo Girl ;;;;

Yoosung*: But

Yoosung*: Jumin

Yoosung*: Did you see what he said earlier?

Yoosung*: he always complains about his father

Yoosung*: but he cat still tell you to trust family…?

707: Yeah…

707: I guess corporate heirs are made of different materials!?

MC: Totally alien material?

MC: lol

707: Alien material seconded

Yoosung*: thirded

Yoosung*: Anyways, to go back to Zen,

707: lol

Yoosung*: He doesn’t get along with his family, right…?

Yoosung*: Since he didn’t become independent under his parent’s permission

Yoosung*: He just ran away and stopped talking to them…

707: Hmm…

707: I think he almost thinks he has no family.

MC: Yeah…

MC: Or at least, not one that he can rely on

MC: which is almost the same thing

Yoosung*: I guess…

Yoosung*: I’ve never even seen him talk about his family until recently

707: Ya…

Yoosung*: Come to think of it,

Yoosung*: I don’t think you’ve ever talked about your family either, Seven?

707: lolololol

707: I was born on the main board.

MC: “I have a twin, CPU”

Yoosung*: …….

707: This is the worst

707: engineering joke

Yoosung*: ;;;

Yoosung*: If I think about it, I feel like my family is the most normal.

707: How normal?

Yoosung*: Dad works for the government.

Yoosung*: Mom’s a housewife.

Yoosung*: Sister wants to be a teacher.

707: + game addict Yoosung

MC: So normal…

Yoosung*: Everyone except me is really diligent in my family

707: lololol

MC: Sounds a lot like my family

Yoosung*: Come to think of it, we don’t know much about your family either, Meijeong

MC: Uhmm… well…

MC: Pretty normal too, to be honest

MC: My mom works as a secretary for an elementary school

MC: My dad works in sales for some mid-size company

MC: I have two younger sisters

Yoosung*: Awwww

707: I knew all that already lololol

MC: lololol don’t brag hacker

Yoosung*: Yeah Seven lol

MC: One sister is married and is a housewife

MC: Her husband is a probation officer

MC: The other is getting her nursing degree

MC: but it’s all pretty normal

Yoosung*: That sounds nice!

Yoosung*: Do you keep in touch?

MC: We’re not really close, to be honest

MC: It’s not like we fight or anything

MC: We see each other for holidays

MC: And I call my parents every once in a while

MC: but…

MC: I kind of feel a bit of an odd one out sometimes

MC: And they all live in a different part of the country now anyway

Yoosung*: mmm

Yoosung*: I feel the same way

Yoosung*: everyone in my family is so normal and successful

707: And Yoosung is a gamer addict

MC: lol be nice

Yoosung*: lololol it’s true though

Yoosung*: How about you, Seven?

MC: Yeah!!

707: Uhm.

Yoosung*: I want to know about your family lol

MC: You’ve got to have an interesting story lol

707: To be honest,

707: my situation is pretty similar with Zen’s haha

MC: Yeah?

Yoosung*: !?!?

707: But why are we suddenly talking about me lolol

MC: Because we want to know more about you lol

Yoosung*: How did I not know this? ;;

707: I didn’t tell anyone lol

Yoosung*: Do you have any siblings?

707: Uhm….

707: I had a brother…

Yoosung*: If you’re in a similar situation with Zen…

Yoosung*: you don’t get along with your family either?

707: I just don’t talk to them.

Yoosung*: Why?

707: Because I ran away lol

MC: I’m sorry :(

MC: You must have a complicated reason.

707: Complicated…

707: It is complicated…

707: On the outside, it’s pretty simple

707: but I feel complicated.

Yoosung*: What do you mean!?

Yoosung*: So you don’t talk to them now?

707: Nope

Yoosung*: And you don’t have any plans to talk to them?

Yoosung*: You have a job and you make a decent living…

MC: I can’t imagine money is the issue…

707: It’s not easy…

707: Things are complicated…

707: And there are some things I can’t reveal because of my job.

MC: oh…

Yoosung*: Oh.

MC: I feel like you didn’t grow up in a normal family to start with, Seven…

Yoosung*: I, uh,

Yoosung*: assumed that your parents would be pretty peculiar

Yoosung*: but I never imagined that you weren’t talking to your family;;;

MC: I wondered…

MC: The way you talk sometimes, I thought that might be the case

MC: But I was kind of hoping I was wrong ;;

Yoosung*: ;;

707: lololol

707: Let’s stop talking about me.

MC: …;;

Yoosung*: okay…

Yoosung*: but still…

Yoosung*: there are two runaways in RFA…

707: Uhm.

Yoosung*: Zen and now Seven…

707: If Zen can still return to his family…

707: if he can…

707: I think he should go back.

MC: Yeah…

MC: You never know what someone’s story is, but…

MC: I agree with Seven

MC: If there’s a chance to reconcile with his family, Zen should take it

Yoosung*: Yeah.

707: Agreed.

Yoosung*: I think that you can return to your family no matter what happens.

Yoosung*: Of course, I grew up in a good household with loving parents, so I never even considered running away…

Yoosung*: So maybe I think this way because I can’t understand how Zen or Seven feels.

Yoosung*: I’m sure that

Yoosung*: Zen went through something I can’t even imagine that made him run away.

707: No need to understand.

707: Everyone’s lives are different.

MC: Seven’s right

MC: We don’t have to understand everything

MC: Just be supportive ^^

Yoosung*: But;;

Yoosung*: I never knew…

Yoosung*: That even you didn’t see your family…

Yoosung*: ;>_<;

Yoosung*: Not a lot of people get along with their family in RFA.

707: It’s not that I don’t get along with them…

707: ><

707: But why are we

707: talking about me again?

MC: Because we care about you

MC: And also because you’re mysterious and it makes us curious lol

MC: Seven… you didn’t go through something sad with your family… did you?

Yoosung*: !!

Yoosung*: So emotional!!

707: It’s noihtng like thyr

707: It’s nothing like that.

Yoosung*:

Yoosung*: I thought that since Seven’s so intelligent

Yoosung*: his parents were scientists or at least alchemists

Yoosung*: and gave him lots of love

Yoosung*: while growing up…

707: Alchemists? Lololololololol

MC: Alchemists?? Is that even a real profession?

707: lololol no

MC: Full Seven Alchemist?

MC: or wait no-

MC: Seven Metal Alchemist?

MC: lolol

707: lololololol

Yoosung*: I guess that wasn’t the case T_T

707: Well,

707: no reason to be curious lol

707: Aren’t you two going to bed?

707: It’s late.

Yoosung*: oh.

Yoosung*: I don’t have time for this.

707: Ya. Go to sleep.

Yoosung*: ~*I have to sign in to LOLOL! *~

Yoosung*: I’m teaming up with others today~!

Yoosung*: We have a whole schedule planned out.

MC: lololol that’s not going to sleep Yoosung…

MC: But go ahead

Yoosung*: Okie!!

Yoosung*: ~*I’ll come back with victory in my hands*~

707: Ya… Have fun.

Yoosung*: Okay…

Yoosung*: I hope Zen cheers up.

Yoosung*: Don’t stay up too late, Meijeong.

Yoosung*: I’ll get going~!

707: Yup~

Yoosung* has left the chatroom.

707: Hmm.

707: Things suddenly got weird because of all this family talk.

MC: I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable ;;

MC: I really am just curious…

MC: Sometimes… I dunno

MC: I feel like I just want to know everything about you lol

707: lolololol

707: I’m flattered

707 ~* ^_^ *~

707:

707: Yeah…

707: I don’t know about Zen’s family very well but…

707: Unlike me,

707: if he could go back to his family,

707: he should…

707: >_~ *~

MC: If you could go back too, go back…!

707: One day

707: I hope to.

707: ^^

707: I should get going too.

707: I feel strange

707: talking about myself.

MC: Don’t worry about it

MC: And make sure you rest up ^^

707: I’ll rest with zero worries in mind.

707: I’ll get going!!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.  

 

Meijeong tossed her phone onto the couch, and flopped down after it, face-planting onto the cushions with a groan.

“Damn it, Seven,” she grumbled into the upholstery, before rolling onto her side and pushing her hair out of her face. That stupid warm feeling was spreading through her insides again, and she curled herself up into a ball and fished out her phone from underneath her. For a moment, Meijeong stared at the screen, fingers hovering over a call icon featuring the smiling face certain frustrating redhead.

Eventually, Meijeong sighed and sat up. Shoving the phone in her back pocket, she went to the kitchen and started water for tea. It had been a long day, and while what she wanted most in the world… well, she couldn’t have that. But curling up in her bed with tea and book, well, that was possible.

All the Light We Cannot See was not a book Meijeong would have necessarily picked out immediately for her own personal reading, but it had won multiple awards and Mrs. Lee had asked about it for her book club, and Meijeong would never recommend something she hadn’t read herself. So far, she had found herself engrossed by it. Reading it, curled up in bed with a cup of peppermint tea… well, it was a decent enough break from reality. Even if she found her eyes wandering occasionally to her phone on the nightstand. Slowly, though, her eyes stopped their wandering and began to grow heavy. Her tea ran out, and Meijeong was about to go to bed when-

ring ring ring! ring ring ring!

Meijeong dropped the book and snatched up the phone, her heart racing.

“Seven!” she answered gleefully, “I’m glad you called!”

“Oh? Uh… ah…” Seven stuttered for a second, but it turned into a laugh, “Ahahaha, of course! God Seven is pleased to hear his follower is so devoted…” He laughed again, but this time it trailed off into an odd sort of quiet.

“So what’s up?” Meijeong crossed her legs and sat up in bed, leaning against the phone. When he didn’t immediately respond, she smiled and spoke more softly, “Did you want to talk about something?”

“Uhm… it’s just…” Seven sighed, “I feel like I’m acting strange these days. And then all this talk about families…”

“Sorry,” Meijeong said, biting her lip. “I didn’t mean to push you on that.”

“Can you listen to anything I have to say?” said Seven, and Meijeong couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“Of course!” she laughed, “I am literally always ready to listen whatever you want to talk about! Go go go!” she cheered.

“Haha, thanks for being so enthusiastic,” Seven chuckled, “I really like that you’re so bright. I feel like I’m under the sun when I talk to you. On some days, I don’t leave the house at all… and I feel like I’m sitting under the sun when I’m talking with you… So just listen for now.”

“Okay,” Meijeong said, folding her legs into a different position and settling in comfortably, leaning back against the bed frame.

Seven may have said that she made him feel like he was sitting under the sun, but right now, she was the one who felt warm and light because of him. She tucked a loose piece of hair behind her ear, and listened.

“A while ago, I got this mission. I was supposed to infiltrate the facility while the enemies were outside and retrieve information. And, you know me… swift 707! Success at once!”

Seven crowed, and laughed, before his voice turned serious again.

“…Or that’s what I thought, but when I sent out all the other agents and was about to leave, the enemies came back. So I hid in the boiler room inside the building. I hid there and looked for the perfect moment to leave. But they just wouldn’t leave. Do you know how many days that took?”

She stayed silent. Meijeong couldn’t bring herself to guess something so horrifying, and regardless, she knew she shouldn’t interrupt him.

“Three days. For three days I hid in there… it was so hot and I was so thirsty that I thought I was going to die… Then I realized that I don’t know what I’d leave behind in this world if I die, the meaning of all that. All the hacking work I did, the duties as an agent… they’re all anonymous,” Seven said matter-of-factly, “No one really knows that it’s me who did it. I thought that when I die… I’d just disappear from this world without any trace.”

His tone was hard to read, but Meijeong’s though he sounded… almost resigned to the fact. Not upset by it, but as if it was something that had simply been determined long ago, and he had long since accepted it. For her, on the other hand…

“Seven… I…” Meijeong’s voice wavered, “That’s so sad. That’s heartbreaking.”

“That might sound sad to you I suppose. It just feels empty to me. I had all those hackers chase me and attack me, but they were never really aware who I am. I don’t have any family who will miss me if I disappear.”

Meijeong pulled herself into a tighter ball, wrapping her arms around her legs, and held the phone against her ear with her shoulder. She wanted to say something, but… something in her gut told her that what Seven needed from her to was just to listen, not to speak or try and reason or comment.

“But… it’s strange. Now that I am so aware of your presence, I constantly think about who I am. Why is that? I’m just hollow…” His voice grew whispered and soft, and despite the sadness of the conversation, Meijeong felt her heart flutter, “I was so distracted by that thought earlier that I was typing your name while coding…”

Meijeong couldn’t help but snort, smiling at that, but Seven didn’t seem to think it was a laughing matter.

“If I leave traces of you with my hands, then you might be in danger because of me…” he said sternly- but it seemed to be himself he was chastising, not her.

“I know you are a good person. I also know that we are very different from birth… Do you think it’s because I know? I keep wanting to know more about you but I’m afraid to approach you. Even still… I constantly look forward to seeing your face on the security feed.”

“Seven…” Meijeong began, her face feeling flushed, “You’re not the only one who-“

“God… What am I doing…?” Seven cut her off, “I shouldn’t be doing this… I’m sorry. I feel like I’m just saying weird things all the time. It was all that family talk, and being stressed about Zen…”

“You’re not saying weird things, Seven,” Meijeong pushed on, “I’m glad you told me this story. I…” But words failed her, and she paused, trying to find a solid path of sense in the mess of emotions swirling in her brain.

“Maybe, but… for you… a man like Zen with a normal job… or Yoosung a normal family… might be better but…” Seven paused now, and it was as if the world froze.

Was he saying what…

“Aaargh…!” Seven yelled, disrupting her thought “I think my head is overloaded. I keep thinking weird things. I’m going to get us both in trouble." 

“Seven-“ Meijeong managed to say, shaking herself out of the fog, but-

“I should get back to work before my brain fries and I say anything more that I shouldn’t. Bye-bye!” Seven said cheerfully, hanging up before Meijeong could get in another word.

Chapter Text

The sun shown brilliantly, burning off the frost from the ground in a gentle fog. The air was still crisp and cold, but it was welcome relief from the dreary grey skies of winter. Meijeong enjoyed the warm rays as she walked to work. She turned her face up to the morning sun and sighed. The bright light felt a little bit light hope against her skin… unfortunately, the situation with Zen was still as hopeless and grey as a winter haze. 

Zen seemed to be completely lost when Meijeong spoke to him that morning. No matter how much she and the others tried, they couldn’t keep him off social media, which only worsened his outlook. Not only that, but he spoke about fans yelling at him from outside his door, and how the entire musical industry was now being dragged through the mud because of people’s opinion of him.

Meijeong’s mind kept going back over the conversation.

 

ZEN: I’d rather

ZEN: go back to the time when I wasn’t popular

ZEN: No one really liked me…

ZEN: but no one hated me either…

ZEN: I think that was a better time…

MC: I know that seems easier now

MC: But don’t give up

MC: This is your dream

ZEN:

ZEN: Back then…

ZEN: Whenever people came up to me and encouraged me,

ZEN: My heart felt so happy.

ZEN: Rika was one of those people.

MC: Was Rika your fan?

MC: Is that how you met?

ZEN: Yeah

ZEN: She knew me from when I was completely alone.

ZEN: I barely made any money back then… I think it’s already been five or six years since then…

ZEN: I met V too when I met her for the first time… and I’d never seen anyone who looked just as good as me lol

MC: haha ^^

ZEN: V… told me he wanted to photograph me as soon as he saw me.

ZEN: Back then I was still pretty rebellious and tried to refuse though.

MC: I believe it lol

ZEN: Rika was

ZEN: The person who introduced me to Jumin too

MC: Yeah?

ZEN: Jumin suggested that

ZEN: he’d support me to go study abroad to act in larger productions,

ZEN: and I absolutely refused.

MC: lololol

MC: I’m not surprised

MC: You didn’t like the financial support?

MC: Or was it his attitude?

ZEN: No…

ZEN: Well, a little bit of both;;

ZEN: I didn’t want to receive money from someone who was born with a silver spoon

ZEN: And I wanted to prove I could succeed on my own without anyone’s help.

MC: That sounds like you even today

ZEN: To be honest… even though I did say that.

ZEN: but in reality it was so hard to make a living

ZEN: that I doubted myself countless number of times

ZEN: Things were hard…

ZEN: and I was so nervous

ZEN: that the fire inside of me would just go out…

MC: How did you overcome it when that happened?

ZEN: I think I just overcame it with my hobby lol

ZEN: Once a show ended, I always went out driving on my motorcycle.

ZEN: I didn’t have to worry about a thing on that bike.

ZEN: The speed comforted me.

MC: Motorcycle…

MC: I’m sure it was nice but…

MC: That’s pretty dangerous too…

ZEN: Yeah… it really is.

ZEN: One time, I was in a really bad accident

ZEN: and almost died.

ZEN: If I hadn’t gotten to the hospital straight away, my life would have been in real danger.

MC: Oh my god!

MC: I’m so glad you’re alive!

ZEN: Yeah…

ZEN: Thankfully…

ZEN: I remember losing my balance and falling…

ZEN: But once I open my eyes, I was at the hospital with V

ZEN: Later when I asked

ZEN: He told me he used to secretly follow me to take photos of me riding my bike

ZEN: But…

ZEN: how did he keep up with such a fast motorcycle?

MC: I dunno

MC: A helicopter?

MC: No, that would be weird

MC: Maybe V’s a rider too?

ZEN: That would be shocking~

ZEN: I went really fast then

ZEN: I should ask him at the party…

ZEN: I really can’t stop thinking about it when I’m down like this…

ZEN: My motorcycle…

ZEN: It’s still in the warehouse.

ZEN: Maybe I should go for a ride at a time like this.

ZEN: I’ll be able to escape

ZEN: from all this anxiety for a while…

MC: I understand… but can’t you find a safer way?

MC: Going on for a ride when you’re this anxious seems risky…

ZEN: Thanks for worrying.

ZEN: I’ll promise you that I’ll be safe.

ZEN: I think I have to go now to avoid any traffic…

MC: okay…

 

 

It was the motorcycle that Meijeong kept worrying about. Riding one was dangerous in the best of times, that much she knew, but when a person was as distressed and distracted as Zen was… well, she kept opening the RFA app, hoping to see his name appear in the chatroom again, so that she’d know he was safe. She didn’t dare call him and risk distracting him further while on a ride.

The shop door chimed brightly as she walked in, and Meijeong heard Mr. Park calling out to her from the backroom. Sloughing off her coat, she followed the sound of his voice to an enormous castle-like pile of boxes. His head poked out from between two towers.

“It seems there was an error in the shipping order,” Mr. Park groaned, stretching his back. “And we may have to find space for a few more books than usual.”

“A few?” Meijeong raised her eyes and laughed, “I think this is a little more than a few. Is the store going to be alright with the payment? I mean…” She frowned, craning her neck to see how far the sea of cardboard spread.

“Oh yes, I always set aside a small stash in case something like this happens. And they’ll sell eventually,” Mr. Park said, “Books don’t go bad after all.”

“Tell that to the Twilight Series,” Meijeong muttered sarcastically, rolling her eyes with a grin. “Okay, where should I start?”

Four hours later, the two of them managed to transform the mountainous canyons of books into more of a few small plateaus.

“I’ll go wait on the front for a bit, while you get some lunch,” Mr. Park said. “When Sun-mi arrives, then I’ll eat.”

“I’m just glad she’s able to come in early,” Meijeong sighed, sinking into a chair and opening her lunchbox. “This is definitely a three person day.

“Yes, well, don’t let that force you to rush through your meal. It’s not healthy to eat too fast,” Mr. Park nodded and point at her firmly, “I can handle things by myself for a few minutes.”

Meijeong smiled, “Thanks.” It was nice to be able to sit and relax her body, but having her mind start to relax too much would just cause her to worry about Zen. She needed a distraction. Looking through her phone, she saw there was no one in the RFA chatroom, but that didn’t necessarily mean no one was free… Yoosung might be around. She dialed his number.

“Mei! Hey, how’re you?” Yoosung answered cheerfully.

“I’m fine, just a busy day at work,” she said, taking a bit of her sandwich before continuing, “Any news on Zen?”

“No…” Yoosung sounded sad, “I wish he’d let us know he’s okay, but I can understand wanting to be alone. When something like this happens, it can hurt so much that you don’t know how to be around other people. Or maybe he just feels like running away for a while with let him run away from his problems. Only you can’t run away from your problems…” Yoosung sighed, “Because your problems are a part of you.”

“Wow,” Meijeong smiled softly, “You talk as if you’re so old all of a sudden.”

“Do I?” Yoosung laughed, “Maybe I do…” he continued, more softly now. “Have you ever experience a situation that hurts that much, like what Zen’s going through? When you can hardly breathe because of how sad and hurt you are.

Yoosung sighed, “Once you go through something like that, I think you become more numb to things”

Meijeong paused, her eyes staring off to a place that wasn’t visible by sight. “I think I have, yeah,” she replied simply.

Yoosung sounded surprised. “You did? Wow. Thanks for being honest with me,” he said, “I hope you’re okay now though.”

“I am,” Meijeong said cheerfully, “Thank you.”

“Zen though… Yoosung continued, “I hope he doesn’t doubt his talent. Because I really believe that he’s talented! I mean…” Yoosung paused sheepishly, “I haven’t actually seen him perform yet, but he practices and works out every day! And Jaehee always raves about him and she’s so picky!”

“You really ought to go see him perform,” Meijeong teased, laughing. “But you’re right. He always stays humble and never stops working hard at every thing he does, learning lines, dancing, working out, everything. He’s going to be one of the best someday.”

“I think so too,” said Yoosung. “Of course, I don’t know about humble. He is a narcissssist… But aside from that, he always tries hard.”

Yoosung paused, but Meijeong could tell from the mumbling that he wanted to say something. She took a few more bites of her sandwich as she waited.

“I’m still jealous of him though,” Yoosung began, “At least he knows for sure what he wants to do. I’m still struggling to find out. I thought I would find it once times passes… But my life hasn’t changed at all the past year and a half."

Yoosung sighed. “What I fear the most is that nothing will change even as time passes me by.”

“Yoosung…” Meijeong felt her heart sink.

“I’m sorry for being such a downer,” he said, “But if you think about it… A year later… Or maybe three, Or even five… How different will my life be? How different could it be without someone to give me inspiration to have passion? That makes me feel really depressed.”

“That’s…” Meijeong sighed, “Almost exactly what I felt like… right before I joined the RFA.”

“What!?,” replied Yoosung, shocked, “Really?”

“Yeah. I mean,” Meijeong scratched her head, “I wasn’t really depressed. I was in an okay place for the most part. But I also worried about being stuck in the same place for years to come, with nothing changing. I didn’t know if I’d be able to find something that would give me a sense of purpose again. And then the RFA just kind of… fell into the my lap. Or into my smartphone,” Meijeong laughed, “Whatever.”

“Well…” Yoosung said, “I’m really, really, really glad you joined the RFA then.”

“Me too.” Meijeong smiled.

“Hmmmm….” Yoosung paused, “Looking at what Zen’s going through, I’m wondering. Is it more sad to not be able to do what you want? Or… Is it more sad to not know what you want?”=

A sad, empty sort of ache from old wound filled a small corner of Meijeong’s chest. “In my experience… It’s sadder not being able to do what you want,” she said, “Not knowing what you want was never sad to me. It was just kind of… empty. Depressing, maybe, but it’s nowhere near the same kind of sadness and pain.”

“If that’s how you think,” said Yoosung, “You must really understand what Zen’s going through. I think I feel a little differently… but maybe because I don’t know what it’s like to have a dream and not be able to do.”

“That would make sense. Everyone has different experiences to grow and live with.” Meijeong said, “But Yoosung, you’ll find a dream. Sometimes it just takes time. Sometimes you lose one and have to find a new one. Life is messy, but you’ll get there, I promise.”

“Thanks… You know, I feel you and Rika would have gotten along. You say similar things sometimes,” Yoosung said, “And… oh yeah. Seeing Zen bring up V… I can’t help but get angry. Shouldn’t V be here right now? Or at least saying something?

“Maybe he’s someplace where he has no signal?” Meijeong offered, unsure of what to say on the subject. She didn’t quite understand what V’s entire dynamic meant at all anymore. She didn’t necessarily think Yoosung was wrong but… getting upset wasn’t going to fix anything…

“Two of the members of the RFA are in trouble and he’s nowhere to be found. If Rika were still here… she’d be doing everything in her power to help Zen. But V just disappears, even when we need him most. I mean, even though Jumin can handle this mostly on his own, V is still his best friend… not mention Zen needs all the help he can get, and the RFA can’t do anything without V’s saying so … so where is V?”

“I…” Meijeong paused, “I wish I had a good answer for that.”

“Me too.” Yoosung muttered, frustrated. “I have to go to class now. We have an exam today…”

“Well, I’ll cheer for you too, Yoosung!” Meijeong said, “Good luck!”

“Thank you!” Yoosung chuckled, “That does make me feel better. See you later!”

Chapter Text

MC has entered the chatroom.

Jaehee Kang has entered the chatroom.

MC: Seven!! You're here!

MC: Zen’s still not back…?

707: No T_T

MC: It’s been hours

MC: I’m getting worried

MC: Has anyone heard from him?

Jaehee Kang: No…

Jaehee Kang: T_T

Jaehee Kang: Not only that

Jaehee Kang: Mr. Han

Jaehee Kang: has ditched work and has gone somewhere again :)

Jaehee Kang: Where in the world is he!?

MC: …Jumin vanished, fading away from this world like an echo after one final call

707: omg

707: I was gonna say that!!

Jaehee Kang: There is no echo in a chatroom;

MC: Sorry;;

MC: I can’t help but joke when things are getting this tense;;

707: Did you listen to Echo Girl’s song Echo!?

MC: Uhhhhh

MC: No…?

Jaehee Kang: U_U ///

Jaehee Kang: Is this the time to be talking about her hit songs?

707: It wasn’t a hit…

707: Apparently the whole song was just echoes so people hated it.

Jaehee Kang:

707: I’m doing research on Echo Girl so I can’t help but bring her up.

Jaehee Kang: So now you admit to doing background checks on people?

707: Didn’t Jumin say he’d help with that?

Jaehee Kang: haha

Jaehee Kang: So that’s what Mr. Han said.

707: Yup. He filled up my bank account.

707: ^u^

Jaehee Kang: The public is already on Echo Girl’s side. I don’t know if anything will work.

MC: Still

MC: We can’t give up!

707: Ya!

707: I’ll have to find evidence that will work!

707: I can’t just stay still when

707: Zen’s on the news for sexual harassment when he didn’t do anything wrong

707: I’ll find evidence,

707: and try to negotiate,

707: or blackmail,

707: or if she’s still arrogant, just send everything over to the newspapers

707: One out of the three.

Jaehee Kang: But if we end up releasing wrong information,

Jaehee Kang: not just Zen’s career but Zen’s everything might be in jeopardy.

MC: But we can’t just do nothing!

MC: Shouldn’t we at least try to get the truth out there?

MC: Rather to just…

MC: Sit around and worry and hope some miracle happens?

707: Yeah.

707: We should tell the truth!!

Jaehee Kang: That’s what you two think.

Jaehee Kang: Anyway, I hope you decide after discussing it with Zen.

Jaehee Kang: Although Mr. Han has already agreed to the plan;;

707: Yaaas. Jumin’s the bomb

707: So excited lololololol

Jaehee Kang: Don’t tell me he’s with you, is he?

707: Nah… my bunker gate isn’t for everyone to open.

Jaehee Kang: How could he use company funds for such a pointless task…?

MC: It’s not pointless!

Jaehee Kang: What if he gets caught…

707: it’s his own money.

MC: wait, really?

MC: that’s amazing!

Jaehee Kang: …!?

707: And Meijeong’s right

707: it’s not pointless

MC: I hope Zen sees this

MC: Maybe he’ll feel better, seeing how much everyone is trying to help him

Jaehee Kang: That’s quite shocking to me

Jaehee Kang: His own money… Are you sure?

707: Yup. My bank account says that it’s from Jumin Han lolol

707: Not the company’s name.

Jaehee Kang: Then there won’t be any legal problems so I’m glad…

Jaehee Kang: but I never thought he’d be the one to go out of his way to help Zen;

707: Jumin may be a weird corporate heir alien

707: But he takes care of the RFA members in his own way

707: He’s really changed a lot since Meijeong joined too

707: And Jumin’s rich so it’s not that big of a deal :)

MC: >_<

MC: I don’t think I did anything

707: Nah, you’ve been a good influence on him

707: Jaehee, I know that you’re worried,

707: but aren’t you being too negative!?

707: You’re not Echo Girl’s fan, are you!?

707: O_o ??

Jaehee Kang: … What are you talking about? ;;;

Jaehee Kang: I’d like to sue Echo Girl for interfering with our business if I could.

Jaehee Kang: Since thanks to her spreading a stupid and false rumor, my boss disappeared.

Jaehee Kang: Should I look for a lawyer…?

MC: Is there any chance he went to go find where Zen disappeared to with his motorcycle?

707: XoX ?!

707: No way!?

Jaehee Kang: ;;;;

707: Well…

707: Jumin bragged that he knows Zen’s secret place >///<

MC: Lol what really?

MC: I missed that

MC: I was just guessing

707: Ya

Jaehee Kang: I will not make any conjectures at the moment,

Jaehee Kang: but I also…

Jaehee Kang: I don’t know… Mr. Han can be so unpredictable at times.

Jaehee Kang: I suppose there’s nothing I can do but wait.

Jaehee Kang: There are so many things I need him to approve…

Jaehee Kang: I can’t help but sigh.

MC: Sorry Jaehee;;

MC: Are you eating right?

MC: I’ll bring you lunch tomorrow before I go to work

Jaehee Kang: Thank you…

Jaehee Kang: That’s very kind

Jaehee Kang: I’ll make sure to mention it to the secretary downstairs that you’re coming so that you don’t get blocked out with all the reporters T_T

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

707: Nahh, don’t fall into that trap!

707: Don’t despair!!!

707: Zen will be up on stage soon!!

Jaehee Kang: Do not finalize things on your own.

Jaehee Kang: How in the world would he go up on stage right now?;;

707: If I prove to the world that Echo Girl is lying and Zen comes back to work,

707: he’ll go up on stage again.

Jaehee Kang: …As if that’s so easy.

MC: It’s not easy

MC: But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen

MC: We just need to find the right information

MC: Well, Seven does ^^;;

707: Yassss >_<

Jaehee Kang: You are very positive…

Jaehee Kang: Anyways,

Jaehee Kang: I hope Mr. Han comes back soon.

Jaehee Kang: We have an audition this afternoon for that stupid cat food model.

707: OH!

Jaehee Kang: I might end up having to conduct the interview alone then.

Jaehee Kang: What is it?

707: Can’t I be the model? Lololololol

Jaehee Kang: U_U///

MC: lololololol nice

707: lolololololololol

Jaehee Kang: … Meijeong, please do not encourage him

Jaehee Kang: Then I’ll go back to work.

707: omg

Jaehee Kang: I hope you discuss with Zen about doing a background check on Echo Girl.

707: Yup. I will.

Jaehee Kang: Then I’ll get going.

Jaehee Kang has left the chatroom.

707: She doesn’t seem so happy… T_T///

MC: Yeah…

MC: She’s under a lot of stress though

MC: And Jaehee is so practical that she finds it hard to be hopeful in a situation like this

MC: Seven

MC: make sure you’re eating and taking breaks to rest

MC: While you’re taking care of Zen lol

707: Thanks >_<

707: Ur always so nice lol

707: But…

707: I’m not kidding lololololol

707: The cat food model!!

707: I want to do it lololol

707: If I take of my glasses… I actually don’t look that bad!! Lololol

MC: Oh! Now I want to see you without your glasses.

MC: Though I think you look good with them as well ^^

707: heehee

707: I’ll show u one day >.<

707: I should go now

707: I need to do more research on Echo Girl

707: What are you going to do?

MC: Go back to my daily life I guess…

MC: I feel like there’s not much else I can do…

707: You’re doing lots by staying positive

707: and caring

MC: Not as much as you

707: ^^~

707: I’ll get going

MC: bye~

707: bye bye!!

707 has left the chatroom.

MC has left the chatroom.

 

 

The doorbell chimed behind her and Meijeong called out, “I’m over here, just a moment.” Stretching up on her toes, she slid the last book onto the top shelf and scurried back towards the front, brushing the dust off the front of her apron as she went.

“Hello, welcome to Park’s Bookshop, is there something I can help you find?” she said, smiling pleasantly at the customer.

It was a girl about Sun-mi’s age, or no, definitely a year or two older. The customer opened her mouth, then shut it again, shaking her head before wandering into the stacks of books. She seemed familiar, so Meijeong assumed she had been in the store before. It was strange, how nervous the girl seemed, and Meijeong wondered vaguely is she should be concerned about shoplifting. She kept glancing over at Meijeong from between the rows of books as she browsed.

Meijeong was about to go over and ask if she needed help with anything again when the girl came to the front.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” she began, “I was in here, a couple months ago with a friend, and at the time we talked about Zen…”

Meijeong’s smile remained plastered, frozen in a perfectly pleasant expression across her face, but her heart skipped a beat. “Oh, yes, of course,” she said, mind racing, wondering where this was going while maintaining perfect customer service. “I remember now. I thought you looked familiar. How may I help you?”

“You said that you knew him, back then…” she frowned, tugging her purse up onto her shoulder. “My friend was really rude about it, and I felt kind of bad, but… you were telling the truth, right? I’ve shopped here a bunch. You don’t seem the kind of person who’d lie about that to complete strangers just to seem cool.”

“I do know him, yes,” Meijeong said, choosing her words carefully. The last thing she wanted was to make a scene at work, especially when her boss was in the back going through orders.

“I wanted to ask… I mean… I know it’s none of my business, but, the news has just been going crazy and it doesn’t feel right,” the girl paused, looking down at her feet. Her long, straight black hair fell in front of her face, and she had to push it back when she looked up to meet Meijeong’s eyes again.

“I know it’s not right assume, and I shouldn’t judge someone just based on how they are on stage, but it doesn’t seem like… something Zen would do,” she finished, fiddling with her purse straps again. Even as nervous as she was, the girl stared at Meijeong with conviction, and Meijeong sighed with relief.

“No, he didn’t do anything wrong,” said Meijeong, a faint smile forming on her lips. “Echo Girl made it all up because she’s angry at him for… personal reasons.”

The girl exhaled hard, then smiled brightly. “I knew it. I mean, a lot of us knew it. The fans, I mean,” she continued, suddenly much lighter, “Echo Girl has always been shady, and Zen has always treated his female fans with such respect… it just didn’t make any sense. Plus the stuff she said about him when they revealed they were working together was gross and objectifying.”

“Oh?” Meijeong wondered if Seven knew to look for that, “Really?”

“Yeah, her twitter was just gushing about how she was gonna seduce him,” the girl said, with a hint of disgust, “Anyway… Could you please tell Zen that his fans, his real fans, haven’t given up on him?” She blushed a little. “That’s… that’s why I really wanted to talk to you, if it turned out he really was innocent like I thought.”

“Oh, uh, yes!” Meijeong nodded, grinning, “Yes, absolutely! I know he really needs the encouragement right now. Thank you!”

“Well, then I’ll make sure to spread the word.” The girl smiled, “The more people who know the truth, the better.”

“That would be amazing!” Meijeong said, “Although, uh… maybe don’t giving my name out as evidence? If you don’t mind… I know my boss definitely wouldn’t want people storming the bookstore, and I’m not exactly anyone newsworthy.”

“Oh, yeah, of course not!” the girl laughed, “I don’t actually even know your name, to be honest, but I know if it were me I wouldn’t want a ton of people showing up at my job asking me about this kind of thing. That would be awful.”

“Yeah,” Meijeong laughed, “It’s Meijeong, by the way. But yeah, please just… tell people it was a reliable source. That’s the truth, and hopefully it’ll be enough for some people until we can get the news spreading the real story.”

“I’m Ji-ae…” she paused, suddenly more somber, “Zen’ll get the truth out there, and come back to acting, right?”

“That’s the plan,” Meijeong nodded, “And as long as there are still people like you supporting him, I know it’ll happen.”

Ji-ae smiled. “Thanks. For being his friend, and for telling me that. Good luck.”

“You too. Thank you, for believing in him.”

“Bye!”

Ji-ae waved as she left the store, looking much lighter than she walked in, and Meijeong couldn’t help but feel the same. She could hardly wait for her break, to be able to check the messenger. Meijeong hoped Zen would be back when she got there, and hoped that this news might cheer him up a little.

But Zen wasn’t back, not even by the time Meijeong took her break a couple hours later, and she found herself worried all over again.

 

MC has entered the chatroom.

MC: Yoosung!!

MC: Has anyonen heardfrm Zen yet?

MC: **Has anyone heard from Zen yet?

MC: or Jumin for that matter?

Yoosung*: No…;;

Yoosung*: Zen…

Yoosung*: He still hasn’t said anything T_T

Yoosung*: Gah…

MC: You don’t think he got hurt on his motorcycle, do you?

MC: I mean, riding when he’s this upset…

Yoosung*: T_T ;;;

Yoosung*: I don’t even want to think about that…!

Yoosung*: Jumin’s gone too…

Yoosung*: Where are they…?

MC: I’d feel so much better if they at least say something.

MC: I mean, Jumin is at least probably with security or a driver or something so…

Yoosung*: yeah…

MC: But still!!

MC: Can’t they at least check in with us!?

MC: AAGH!!

Yoosung*: T_T

MC: I feel so bad right now

MC: I wish there was something I could do…

Yoosung*: Me too…

Yoosung*: T_T

Yoosung*: I hope they come back soon

Yoosung*: and tells us they’re okay!

Yoosung*: I… did find some good news…

MC: me too, actually…

MC: Kind of

Yoosung*: Yeah??
MC: You first~

Yoosung*: Okay

Yoosung*: I looked at his fan club site because I got so worried,

Yoosung*: and things changed since Echo Girl first ran her story

Yoosung*: it’s not a huge change…

Yoosung*: but thankfully

Yoosung*: a lot of people are still supporting him!

Yoosung*: Most of them are people who actually saw Zen in person

Yoosung*: and they’ve been standing up for him

Yoosung*: shielding him from the haters!

Yoosung*: >.<

MC: That’s so awesome!

MC: I mean

MC: Anyone who has actually met Zen knows he could never do something like that

MC: but no one wants to accidentally silence a real victim either

Yoosung*: Yeah

Yoosung*: You’re right

Yoosung*: A lot of the people on his side are really doubtful of Echo Girl’s claim.

Yoosung*: I’m sure he’ll cheer up once he sees that!

MC: I hope so

Yoosung*: I think he’ll at least feel that he’s not alone.

MC: Exactly!

MC: That’s kind of what my good news is too

MC: There was a fan that came into the bookstore today

Yoosung*: O_O!!

MC: It’s okay!

MC: Nothing bad happened!

MC: I met her a few months ago, before one of Zen’s shows

MC: She was really nice

MC: She remembered that I knew Zen,

MC: and wanted to ask if the things that Echo Girl said were true

MC: Because she just didn’t think they could be

Yoosung*: That’s great!

Yoosung*: did she believe you?

MC: Yeah

MC: She said she’s going to tell all her friends, all the fans she knew, what I said

Yoosung*: I hope…

Yoosung*: Zen keeps on acting no matter what happens.

MC: He’s got to!

MC: It’s his dream.

MC: We won’t let Echo Girl take that from him.

Yoosung*: Exactly!

Yoosung*: Of course this won’t suddenly just disappear…

Yoosung*: but if Zen quits acting now,

Yoosung*: I don’t think I’ll ever forgive Echo Girl.

MC: I hope he doesn’t give up.

MC: I hope this doesn’t ruin acting for him.

Yoosung*: I agree!

Yoosung*: I just hope… he responds to this somehow.

Yoosung*: If there are people who still support him in this situation,

Yoosung*: Zen’s popularity was never just a bubble.

Yoosung*: It means he has actual fans who support him!

MC: Exactly!

MC: It’s not just about his looks!

Yoosung*: That’s what they said.

Yoosung*: They like his looks,

Yoosung*: but they loved the characters he played in the musicals…

Yoosung*: They know that his acting is real and worth something.

V has entered the chatroom.

MC: V!!

Yoosung*: Oh… V

MC: Have you heard what’s going?
MC: Did Seven talk to you?

V: I actually saw it on the news…

V: Then I talked to Seven, yes

V: I’m sorry that I’m just checking in now…

MC: Do you know where Zen or Jumin are?

V: I… have a pretty good guess.

V: Jumin has probably gone to go get Zen

MC: Thank goodness

MC: Do you think we’ll hear from them soon?

V: I don’t know for sure

V: But hopefully

Yoosung*: good

Yoosung*: I’m relieved ;;

MC: Me too ;;;

Yoosung*: But V… did you come here just to tell us that?

V: Actually… no

V: I’ve been thinking about it

V: And I think the best way to help Zen and Jumin

V: Is for the RFA to step up and stand up for them both

MC: lol that sounds impressive

Yoosung*: V… that’s a really good idea!

V: It’s… a bit risky, to be honest

V: But I want to hold a press conference

V: To announce the official